The 2022 BLT Architects Student Design Competition, Building A New History, challenged contestant teams to tackle an adaptive reuse and addition to one of BLTa’s historically designated buildings, The International House. Three teams of first-year Weitzman Architecture students won the competition, which included teams from other schools in the Philadelphia area. Designs were judged by the clarity of the overall concept, connectivity to the surrounding community, core skills in design, and an oral presentation.
BLT Architects is a Philadelphia-based integrated architecture and interior design firm with expertise in mixed-use, multi–family residential, hospitality, office, higher education and transit based projects.
Learn more about the winning projects below.
First Place: Wenliu Tu and Luxin Zhong
Located between two universities, the project site gives energy and opportunities for the new international housing. This project respects the historical brutalist building, and adds a new vibe to it by having elements “hugging” the original building. The hugging gesture shows the presence of the new residential tower behind, conserves the façade of the old International House while providing small space for cultural activities, such as dance and fitness studio, community library, gallery, and cafe. These not only fulfill the needs of the residents but also encourage them to interact through daily activities while connecting two buildings. Public and private entrances are separated to ensure privacy. The public will enter through the entrance from the street garden in 37th street to the cafeteria and the market, while the two new circulation cores are reserved for the residents. The new tower is 25 feet apart from the original one to introduce a courtyard in between, which also brings in sunlight and air. Below the atrium, a walkway between the two residential buildings becomes a connection and also marketplace. The structure grid respects the original architecture by following the column grids of the Philadelphia International House. Material-wise, thin steel frame structures and Low-E glass are utilized in this project in contrast with the thick concrete structure. In that way, the new project could keep the International House to the maximum while introducing new architecture languages and modern vibes.
Second Place: Ming Chen (MArch’24) and Vicky Zheng (MArch’24)
To preserve and enhance the maximum flow of natural light and to ensure the circulation of the structure, we kept the general open space and retail addition at the front side of the build to ground level. Similarly, we placed the new addition of cultural facility near the theatre towards the bottom of the building where the population flow and activity will be the most prominent. From a new back opening in the western elevator, one will be able to access both the roof and ground entrance of the cultural facilities that are made into four parts. The glass walls of the individual components of the cultural facility will promote communication between the exterior and interior space. This ensures both privacy within a structure and engagement with the outdoor site. And for the additional housing, we extracted the idea of the terrace from the existing structure. The old form was manipulated into a new style which can allow more sunlight into the interior space and introduce more green space in the vertical direction. We used the original interior horizontal circulation and also kept and maintained the elevator cores to be the vertical circulation to connect the new modern addition with the existing brutalist structure. All design methods are to create a balance between old and new, artificial and natural and to respond to the existing brutalist architecture.
Third Place: Maria Jose and Maitrey Prajapati
Reimagining Connectivity: Cluster Communities
As international students ourselves, our proposal envisions this building as a living history - a contemporary rendition of the original International House that was home to scores of international students that arrived in Philadelphia. The enlarged program features thematic affordable-housing clusters nested in between shared spaces, allowing for ample co-living spaces and semi-public zones for community development. This is supported by an international student lounge that houses student organizations and staff, along was a bustling bazaar on the ground floor that spills out onto the Chestnut St. plaza. All elements in our design are conceived with the goal of fostering a sense of security and community for international students.