Architectural Preservation

Back to Blog February 2, 2017

Award-Winning project from Architecture Professor Eric Oskey and his firm Moto Designshop

Author: mary stiger
Walnut Estates by Moto Designshop

Architecture professor Eric Oskey's firm Moto Designshop has been receiving a lot of publicity for their recent project, Walnut Estates.  Walnut Estates, located in the city’s Society Hill neighborhood, features a striking brick screen facade.  The project was recently awarded a Residential Architect Design Award from Architect Magazine, and has been featured in other publications, including Curbed Philadelphia.  

Eric Oskey responded to questions about the project:

Q: It’s clear that the team at Moto Designshop thinks outside the box.  What do you think contributes to your firm’s ability to think differently about architecture, in this case thinking differently about how a brick is used?​

A: We work well together in that the three partners who have similar mindsets in regards to pushing each other in how we approach a project.  We do not try to be different for difference sake but we first research and try to understand the culture and context of a project.  In regards to brick; this means the surrounding structures and neighborhood were vital to our understanding of what material to use.  Because brick is so prevalent in the residential structures of the historic area of Philadelphia we believed we should use this material.  The question then becomes “what is the limits of a brick?” and “what do we want it to do?”  In this case the brick needed to be a screen to provide shading for the south façade, create privacy and allow for views from within looking out. Three potentially contradictory program desires that were resolved through the perforation of what is typically a solid plane.

Q: Did you think this project would get as much publicity/recognition as it has? What do you think made it so successful?

A: We did feel that it would get some publicity/recognition but we were not convinced it would be as positive as the reviews have been so far.  We think it is successful for the same reason why we wanted to try it.  There is a boldness to a 45’ tall, single wythe, perforated brick screen.  We believe the extreme aspects of the screen make it successful.  Extreme ratio of height to thickness, from solid to open.

Q: Which came first, the idea for the screen or the use of the brick?  Did you design the screen first and then say “oh we can use bricks for this” or did you start with the brick and say “what can we do with this”?

They came at the same time.  We wanted to create a screen but also use a material true to the nature of the surrounding neighborhood.  Then we had to figure out how to construct it.  This took many different experiments with brick patterning and using industry standard bricks to make the pattern.  Additionally we had to design structural reinforcement that was not visible. All this took much experimentation, structural analysis and intense documentation.

Q: What is your preferred medium to work through design problems like this? 3D modeling, physical models, sketching, etc., and why?

A: Our office works in 3D visualization for most of our design work.  It allows us to sketch three dimensionally and visualize things in space.

Q: What advice would you give to students who want to pursue a career in a highly creative, exciting firm like Moto Designshop?

A: It is very hard to get into a good design firm, the competition is very intense. As an employer, I look for a person that is passionate about design, shows a humility that infers that they are willing to learn, are open to possibilities no matter how crazy they might seem at first, proof of excellent skills in whatever types of work they have engaged and an intense work ethic.  We do not need a prospective employee to know all software or skills but we do know that excellent visual acuity and technical dexterity almost always transfers to any new skill or task one might have to engage in the profession.  It is not what to think but how to think.

Congratulations to Eric and his colleagues at Moto Designshop!