Building conversions are, in many ways, the ultimate upcycling projects: You keep the frame of an unused space, repurpose the materials and transform it into something useful. The Fishtown area in particular has become a hot spot for such real estate adventures, with impeccably designed living spaces hiding behind auto body facades and church doors.
But while they’re the ultimate dinner party venues, conversions don’t come without a price. Photographer Dominic Episcopo bought a Fishtown church eight years ago and is still in the process of converting it into a studio and home. “It’s a never-ending process,” he says. “I’d guess we have three to five years to go until it’s finished.”
The 150-year-old building boasts a roof the size of a football field, complete with solar panels. “I’m heating gymnasiums here, and trying to keep them cool in the summer,” Episcopo says.
Though heating and cooling are concerns, conversions frequently include eco-friendly elements. Patrick McDonald is a LEED Accredited Professional at Onion Flats, an architecture collective that specializes in peculiar conversions. Onion Flats is responsible for the trolley car garage that became two condos at 13th and Ridge streets, and Rag Flats — a converted factory with solar panels and rooftop gardens — in Fishtown.
“One of the best things about a conversion,” explains McDonald, “is being able to bring an old, broken down structure into an updated and beautiful space to live and work, while preventing the destruction and demolition of what could go on for generations, to serve the changing needs of a new demographic.”