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New Society Hill townhomes wow with unusual brick screen facade

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The award-winning project is a new look for the neighborhood

Walnut Estates was designed by local firm Moto Designshop.
Photo by Melissa Romero

A new residential project by a local architecture firm is drawing attention and awards in Society Hill for its unusual facade. It was designed in 2014 by Moto Designshop, transforming a small parking lot into four ultra-luxe townhomes that are shielded by a mesmerizing brick screen facade.

The result is Walnut Estates, a collection of three 5,000-square-foot and one 6,000-square-foot residences at 111-117 Walnut Street that are five stories tall and offer roof-deck views of I.M. Pei’s Society Hill Towers. The project has been years in the making and is the first of its kind for developer Kellytown Development and Moto Designshop, whose prior residential work mostly included renovations of single-family homes.

Photo by Moto Designshop

Walnut Estates was built by-right, but in coming up with the design, architect Adam Montalbano says they wanted to pay homage to its two neighboring buildings: The five-story Greek Revival old Bookbinders building to the left and a tall, Miami-like residential tower to the right.

“It was something unique that we’d never done before, but we wanted to work with brick,” says Montalbano. “But we wanted to modernize it and figure out a way that was not typical of what you see around here.”

The result is the white brick, solar facade that stands in front of the four home’s glass facade. Reinforced by rebar, the screen shields the interiors from passersby, but still allows for views from within. From the right viewpoint on the sidewalk, the pattern of the facade makes it appear like it is undulating.

“It doubles as a shading device,” explains Montalbano. “The way the light comes through and dapples, it gives the effect that you see with trees and leaves on the ground. The design gave an intimate level of light coming through the building.”

The interiors of each townhome feature walnut hardwood and ceilings, travertine limestone floors, and varying levels of custom features. The largest of the four units, 117 Walnut, is still under construction and features a high level of customization, says Montalbano. That includes pocket doors in nearly every room, an automated sliding door for a bike storage room, as well as a $100,000 curved window in the master bathroom that frosts over when when the shower or jet tub is in use.

The brick facade causes a dappled light effect inside the townhomes.
Photo by Melissa Romero
Photo by Moto Designshop

Montalbano says the level of customization in each home was one of the main reasons the project took so long to finish construction. Still, it didn’t take long for the units to sell, fetching $2.5 million for the three 5,000-square-foot homes and $3.1 million for the biggest, corner home.

The project’s accolades are growing, too, first earning an unbuilt AIA Award in 2014. In 2016, the Walnut Estates won an Architect Magazine Residential Architect Design Award for Architectural Design Detail.

Says Montalbano, “We’re happy with the way that it turned out. I think it’s something that’s unique in this city.”

The master bathroom features an electric-frosting wall and a step-down jet tub.
Photo by Melissa Romero
Photo by Moto Designshop
Photo by Moto Designshop
The roof deck features an outdoor shower, hot tub, and built-in planters, as well as a kitchen and full bathroom.