Sam Oberter

For several years now, Philadelphia-based Interface Studio Architects has been collaborating with local builder Postgreen Homes to develop, design, and build the 100K House, a series of stylish and energy-efficient, entry-level modern homes that cost $100,000. Because these affordable houses must come in at about $100 per square foot, all architectural elements have to be extremely inexpensive to build. But they also must be elegant and cool.

“This house, dubbed ‘Passive House,’ is part of a larger collaboration around the 100K House line—which provides affordable, contemporary, high-performance [LEED Platinum–certified] houses,” says Brian Phillips, principal of Interface Studios. “All of the versions of this house are elemental in their design—using simple materials in clever ways.”

One good example of this design philosophy is the exterior shading on the urban row home. “Exterior sunshading is often a component of our high-performance design approach,” Phillips says. “It’s functional and adds an element of texture to the façade.”

The house faces east/southeast, so the architects used digital modeling tools to project sun angles to find the best window edges to shade—ones that would prevent the summer sun from streaming in, but allow the morning winter sun.

“With our super-insulated approach and small-scaled window openings, we’ve computed that it is advantageous to have exterior sunshades,” Phillips says, explaining that the houses are tight enough that body heat, appliances, lights, and a super-efficient, ductless, split HVAC system easily heats the homes.

In keeping with the simplicity and affordability of the house, the architects used a plain welded galvanized steel plate that was bent at an angle. Strategically placed, the shades keep out the sun’s heat, but add an architectural feature that helps to enliven the overall exterior. The architect could have chosen a more conventional approach that costs more, but this solution does double duty: It looks good and costs very little.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Philadelphia, PA.