Bethlehem architect brings new philosophy to home design

Cris Collingwood//January 18, 2023

Bethlehem architect brings new philosophy to home design

Cris Collingwood//January 18, 2023


The interior of House on 5th touts an open floor plan with vaulted ceilings and a spiral staircase to maximize use of space – Photo by Matt Wargo

Joseph Biondo is quietly challenging the traditional philosophy, process and delivery of architecture. 

After traversing the traditional architectural path working with two large firms and a short stint on his own, Bethlehem native Biondo decided to follow his passion of creating spaces that are environmentally friendly and serve a purpose. 

Jospeph Biondo – photo by Adam Atkinson

He started Biondo+ Projects, a firm he calls an architect-led development company in 2020 to “tackle the next evolution in architecture,” which he has been contemplating over the past decade. 

“Conventionally, architecture is a service industry where architects solve client problems while making a building,” Biondo said. “I differ in that I want to solve societal problems and challenge the norm.” 

He’s doing that by financing, building and planning projects one at a time. “I hope to find solutions for aging in place and multi-generational and multi-family housing,” he said. 

As an architect, Biondo said he has no clients because he is the client. “Our profession, in my view, has gotten passive and risk adverse,” he said. “I assume all the risk” on projects. 

His first project, a 1,300-square-foot home on 5th Street in Bethlehem is geared toward Millennials and Gen Zer’s to build equity. “It’s the right price point for a startup but could also be for Baby Boomers looking to downsize,” he said. 

The project not only earned him an Award of Merit at the AIA Pennsylvania Architectural Excellence Design Awards this year but was only on the market for a few days before selling above the asking price. And it received a lot of social media buzz because it looks different, he said.  

“This shows there is a need for this,” he said. “It is efficient. When the footprint is smaller, you can afford to have higher quality with better materials.” 

The House on 5th as it is known has an open floor plan that Biondo said creates more space than the footprint. The use of an open floor plan with vaulted ceilings creates more usable areas.  

The two-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom home features two main materials – brick and shingle, each of which he used in unconventional ways, Biondo said. He used the asphalt shingles, traditionally used as a roofing material, for the roof and sides of the exterior.  

“The brick features weeping joints to create texture and shadow along the exterior,” he said, creating a unique look. 

In the interior, the home has a contemporary design with open-concept main living space, and spiral staircase to an overlooking multi-purpose loft. Biondo said he used only the highest-quality materials in partnership with local contractors, suppliers, and artists. 

“With a smaller footprint, I can increase the quality, like better windows and insulation, and still build an affordable property.” 

So why the change? 

“I harken back to my childhood in an Italian immigrant family,” he said. “My father was not formally trained in anything but could do anything. He was a tailor and worked in real estate and construction.” 

His father, he said, brought him to where he is today. “When Dad and I hung out it was related to work. He was always in the process of making and I watched him negotiate and learned a lot.” 

Because of his father’s influence, Biondo said he wants to take a proactive role in shaping the environment. “I ask myself ‘is bigger better’” 

Biondo is referring to the several decade trend of building bigger houses with lots of amenities. He said he would rather see efficiency in the footprint of the structure. 

“During the course of the House on 5th project, BIONDO + Projects challenged the idea that an architect designing a home is a luxury reserved for the elite,” Biondo said. “The working class is equally deserving of high-quality design. Unfortunately, housing has been reduced to profit-driven exercises that prioritize ease and speed of construction over things like sustainability, thoughtfulness, and timelessness.” 

With that in mind, he abandoned traditional printed plans, replacing them with improvised Sharpie drawings on wood framing, all to ensure nothing was overlooked, nothing was extra, and everything was of the highest quality.  

“We leveraged a compact footprint, simple framing scheme, and locally sourced materials to create a home that was financially accessible, contextually relevant, and enduring,” he said. 

“For nearly a century, the average family size has been decreasing. Conversely, our average new home is becoming out of reach and square footages are dramatically increasing. The House on 5th is a curious response to those facts,” Biondo said. 

“I want to deliver buildings that work for the community,” he said. “I love sharing my talents with the community and will create projects where I think they will work. I have no profit goals or specific number of buildings planned.” 

He does, however, want to continue to quietly create properties in everyday neighborhoods. And he likes that people are talking about it and debating what they see. “To me, this is a more effective than writing a book or lecturing about it.” 

Biondo said he is looking for property that is “under the radar” mainly in cities rather than the suburbs so people can become part of the neighborhood. He said he feels living in a walkable community is important to quality of life.  

“This is not unlike what people used to do,” he said. “It’s interesting in today’s market, but it works well.”