Celebrating all our choices, and the collective result

by Val Nehez
Posted 5/17/24

Our studio building is celebrating a birthday, giving us a chance to reflect upon how we fit into its generational story and all the choices that brought us here. 

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Celebrating all our choices, and the collective result


Our Studio building, a stone church that we own and occupy, just celebrated its 153rd birthday on April 14. This was the day that Alexander Krail sold the land on which the church now sits to the Falls United Methodist Church congregation. 

The building sits on Indian Queen Lane, an East Falls street that has a history all its own. In the words of East Falls Historical Society contributor Emma H Maxwell: “No spot can boast more history per square inch than the short cobbled mile in East Falls called Indian Queen Lane. It was named for an Indian queen who is supposed to have lived in a house at the bottom of the hill after she abandoned the wigwams of her forebears for the four-walled comforts...”

Now, all these years later, I find that this moment of celebrating our time in this old church is giving us a particular gift – a chance to reflect upon how we fit into this generational story, and all the choices, and stories, that brought us here. 

It’s particularly fitting that this moment comes just after reading the spring issue of The Local’s Wissahickon Magazine, which was dedicated to the Wissahickon Valley Park, and the paper’s May coverage of historic preservation in our communities. We, like so many others who’ve chosen Northwest Philadelphia as our home, have a special reverence for the park and its history, as well as the history of the buildings that give our neighborhoods their character. 

It’s this history and all the landmarks it has produced that make us want to live here. It also forms who we are in the present day. Choosing to preserve and adaptively reuse these century-old landmarks is a conscious decision we all make. Collectively, caring for our historic park and all our treasured architecture is part of what makes us who we are. 

In her note, Local Editor Carla Robinson wrote, “Our parks are a central character in the collective story of who we are and an important part of why our neighborhoods evolved as they did.”

I couldn’t agree more. Even “starchitect” Frank Gehry, known for starkly modernist new construction monuments like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, understands this concept. In a master class on the subject, he described adaptive reuse as “maintaining a local cultural heritage, slowing urban sprawl, and creating community beacons.”

So it is with a feeling of collective pride, and belonging, that I now watch the Woodmere Art Museum turn the old St. Michael’s Hall in Chestnut Hill into a new museum building, and developers convert the shuttered Germantown High School into new apartments. Over here in my corner of East Falls, I feel myself in communion with them. 

Creating a new use for our old church was a labor of love – one that has shaped the very nature of our practice. Seeing something built for such a specific purpose completely reimagined has formed us as artists and designers. 

And we’re always happy – and proud – to share it. Stop by anytime and we’ll give you a tour. 

Val Nehez is the owner and principal designer at Studio IQL in East Falls, which you can find at 3580 Indian Queen Lane, or at StudioIQL.com and on Instagram at studio_iql. For smaller projects look for quickandlovely_design.