Studio of Metropolitan Design Architects

News Release

The ant Harpegnathos saltator is an emerging model system to study how epigenetic processes regulate brain function and behavior because adult workers retain the ability to switch into reproductive individuals that act like queens. This image shows a Harpegnathos saltator worker ant in the process of stinging a cricket to paralyze it and drag it into the nest as part of its hunting duties.

Credit: Brigitte Baella.

PHILADELPHIA – Ants have proven themselves to be the newest (and brightest) animal model on the laboratory block. Nevertheless, “ants-as-animal-model” darlings is a fairly new thing. But not for Shelley Berger, PhD, and Roberto Bonasio, PhD, from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. For the last decade, Berger, Bonasio, and colleagues from the NYU School of Medicine and Arizona State University (ASU), have been working with several ant species (and other animal models) to tease out the molecular inner workings of aging, cancer, and brain neuroscience, among other areas. The Berger and Bonasio labs look at changes in DNA itself as well as changes in how DNA is expressed (the field of epigenetics) to accomplish these discoveries. Berger is the Daniel S. Och University Professor in the department of Cell and Developmental Biology. Bonasio is an assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology.“Social insects such as ants are outstanding models to study how gene regulation affects behavior,” Bonasio said. “This is because they live in colonies comprised of individuals with the same genomes but vastly different sets of behaviors.” The colony typically includes one queen, carrying out all the egg-laying, and numerous workers, who sacrifice reproduction to provide all other tasks for the group.

This week, in a pair of papers published in Cell, the team turned to an ant species — the Indian jumping ant (Harpegnathos saltator) — that does not behave like most ants. In this species any female worker can change into a “pseudo-queen,” in the absence of the true queen and establish dominance on her colony. Berger and colleagues genetically engineered this species in different ways using now-famous CRISPR technology that dramatically changed their social and reproductive behavior.

“In the broadest sense, these studies suggest, albeit indirectly, that the human brain might also be subject to this type of molding,” Berger said. “Better understanding, biochemically speaking, how behavior is shaped could reveal insights into disorders in which changes in social communication are a hallmark, such as schizophrenia or depression.”

In one study, a CRISPR-engineered mutation in the orco gene disabled the ants’ sense of smell. Mutant ants displayed asocial behavior, such as not interacting with other ants in the colony, not foraging for food, and not displaying pre-mating grooming.

In these orco mutants, there is stunting of projections made by odor receptors on neurons in ant antennae into the smell center of the ant brain. Ants exhibit cooperative social behaviors that depend on chemical odors called pheromones. The orcogene encodes the co-receptor of all odor receptors and mutations in orco significantly impact ants’ sense of smell, and therefore social communication.

In the other study, Bonasio and colleagues injected the brain chemical corazonin into ants transitioning to become a pseudo-queen, which suppressed expression of a brain protein called vitellogenin. This change stimulated worker-like hunting behaviors, while inhibiting pseudo-queen behaviors, such as dueling and egg deposition.

Further, when the team analyzed proteins the ant brain makes during the transition to becoming a pseudo-queen, they found that corazonin is similar to a reproductive hormone in vertebrates. More importantly, they also discovered that release of corazonin gets turned off as workers became pseudo-queens. Corazonin is also preferentially expressed in workers and foragers from other social insect species. In addition to corazonin, several other genes were expressed in a worker-specific or queen-specific way.

Now that ant mutants are a reality, Berger, Bonasio, and their collaborators are primed to make important discoveries on how these and other genes control social behavior in ants and other animals.

In addition to Berger, the senior authors of the ant mutant study are Danny Reinberg at NYU School of Medicine, Claude Desplan at NYU, and Jürgen Liebig at ASU. The study on the behavioral effects of corazonin was performed largely by Janko Gospocic, a postdoctoral fellow in the Bonasio laboratory, with contributions by Emily Shields, a doctoral student in Genomics and Computational Biology and Karl Glastad, a postdoctoral fellow in the Berger laboratory, as well as Reinberg, Liebig, and Tim Linksvayer from Penn. Berger is also director of the Penn Epigenetics Institute.

The ant epigenetic project was funded by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Collaborative Initiative Award (HCIA #2009005). Ant research in the Bonasio lab is funded by the National Institutes of Health (DP2MH107055), the Searle Scholars Program (15-SSP-102), the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation (KA2016-85223), and a Linda Pechenik Montague Investigator Award.




Buyer’s remorse turns to buyers rejoice


About three years ago, Karen and Tom Getzen moved into a 2,200-square-foot house almost surrounded by the beautiful Wissahickon woods in Chestnut Hill.

“We looked at the house in the dead of winter and fell in love with the woods and bought it,”  says Karen.

It was more than the bucolic charm of the location that drew them, she says: They wanted a place to live as they grew older, one with fewer steps and requiring less maintenance than their Mount Airy home did.

But as sometimes happens with quick infatuation, the Getzens soon fell out of love with their new home.

There was little light in the three tiny rooms at the back of the house — the kitchen, the laundry room, and a mudroom.

The door leading to a beautiful deck in back had no window, and it was difficult to access the deck.


A cabinet blocked the view of the dining area from the kitchen, which could be entered only from the front foyer. To get to the dining room, you had to walk  around the first floor.

So when Tom, who taught health economics at Temple University, retired, the couple hired architect Elie-Antoine Atallah, principal at Studio of Metropolitan Design Architects in Center City, to make the house more livable.Two of his main tasks, Atallah says, were to add to the light at the rear of the house and consolidate all those tiny rooms.


“The house was designed in the ’70s by a couple who had a vision but no architectural training,” he says.

To show Tom and Karen what he had planned, Atallah made three-dimensional renderings. The walls between the kitchen, laundry room, and mudroom were removed, producing a single long room of 325 square feet.

Three windows were installed in the upper walls of the kitchen on the north side. On the south side, a doorway leading to the dining room from the kitchen ensured that people could enter the area directly.

A new door with a window was installed leading to the yard from the kitchen, and new sliding glass doors replaced the originals so the Getzens could get to their deck easily.


Food storage, electrical utilities and other features are now housed in floor-to-ceiling walnut cupboards that eliminated a cabinet jutting out into the kitchen. A long quartz-covered island with stools for casual meals occupies the center of the new space.

Because the couple frequently take care of their granddaughter, who plays on the floor, Karen, 65, says she loves the new oak there, as well as the enhanced lighting. (She now teaches writing part time at Chestnut Hill College, having retired from her full-time division-head post there.)

Until the changes were made, Karen says, she didn’t realize just how wonderful the setting of their house was. It’s now easy to open and close the sliding glass doors leading from the dining room to the deck and offering an expansive vista.

A new door in the modern kitchen makes it easy to enter the backyard. In fact, the woods almost seem to want to come inside.

“We eat our meals on the deck from April through October, and later if the weather remains warm,” she says. “We love to watch for birds and look at the changing colors of the trees.”

In the living room, too, the fireplace with white mantel stands under a painting by a family friend, Lois Stecker, that adds a sylvan touch of orange and yellow.

As opposed to walking around the house to get to the dining area from the old kitchen, says Tom, 69, “everything is in a straight line now.”

Both say they appreciate the fact that everything — cooking, dining, storage, laundry — is within easy reach of the kitchen area.

“We spend most of our time here between the kitchen and the patio, and it is wonderful that it is so accessible, ” Karen says.

“You know,” she adds, “I just told Tom that we haven’t had anything to complain about recently about the house since the work was done. Before this, it was a chief topic of conversation.

“I am happy now.”


Architectural Hall of Fame winners now a part of neighborhood history

Architectural Hall of Fame winners now a part of neighborhood history
Posted on November 15, 2016 by Kevin Dicciani

The five places inducted last week into the Chestnut Hill Historical Society’s Architectural Hall of Fame are now forever a part of the neighborhood’s rich and diverse historical past.
The CHHS created the Hall of Fame in 2015 to honor the places in Chestnut Hill that are both historically and architecturally significant. This year 10 places were nominated, and more than 1,400 votes from the general public decided the winners, which were announced at a sold-out cocktail gala at the historic home of Hill residents Karen and Jeff Regan. This year’s inductees are as follows:
• Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania
• Chestnut Hill Fire Station
• Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
• Krisheim
•St. Andrews Residence
The winners join last year’s Hall of Fame inductees, which include: the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge (originally built 1731), Gravers Lane Station (Frank Furness, 1883), the Wissahickon Inn (G.W. and W.D. Hewitt, 1883-84), the Margaret Esherick House (Louis Kahn, 1960-61) and the Vanna Venturi House (Robert Venturi, 1962-64).
To join such an historical and important list of places and architects is for this year’s inductees, then, an honor of the highest degree. Below are their reactions to being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
St. Andrews

St. Andrews Residence

The most modern place this year to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, St. Andrews Residence., was designed by owner and architect Elie-Antoine Atallah along with his firm, Studio of Metropolitan Design. The house, completed in 2013, features natural wood, brick and glass interiors and exteriors, a storm water management system, and planting that is local to Pennsylvania. The goal, Atallah said, was to mesh facets of modern architecture with the traditional and classic aesthetics of Chestnut Hill.
Being added to this year’s Hall of Fame was “quite stunning,” Atallah said, and also a reflection of the community’s ability to appreciate quality architecture, be it classic or modern.
“Having a new, modern house being appreciated by the neighborhood is only to prove that the neighborhood is not as fuddy-duddy as most people make it to be, and the fact that people are open to new ideas and new architecture is fantastic,” Atallah said. “And being in the same league as the Esherick House and the Vanna Venturi House is phenomenal.”
Atallah said he and his firm wanted to design the home to keep the footprints as small as possible on the site. He said there were various zoning restrictions due to the site’s slope and the presence of the Wissahickon Watershed, which led to him installing a new storm water management system in the front yard which uses existing paths to filter the water back to the Wissahickon. To further echo the surrounding natural environment in the designs, Atallah said almost all of the plantings on the property are native to the area, from the trees all the way down to the grass.
“The wildlife depends on native species,” he said. “The songbirds, the bees, the insects are all local and related to that same ecosystem, so we tried to preserve that.”
Speaking of the Hall of Fame, Atallah said that having an institution like the CHHS is what helps the community bond over common issues as well as its love of architecture. He said the CHHS is important for many reasons, but its dedication to preserving the environment, nature and character of the neighborhood, in tandem with its willingness to take bold steps into the future, is something that he finds “amazing.”
“It’s very nice to acknowledge that there are wonderful buildings designed by Peabody and George Howe, and by preserving them we can see many examples of good architecture and good environments throughout the ages,” he said. “And by recognizing both old and new places and buildings, we can answer the question:What are we leaving behind for the next generation, what is there for them to look at to see not only what happened in the early-19th century, but also the 21st century?”



St Andrews Residence inducted in Chestnut Hill Architectural Hall of Fame 2016



Posted on , updated on

Philadelphia Inquirer

Haven: Thriving with their orchids

03 January 2016

Taylor and Frank Slaughter moved to Philadelphia when he retired from a faculty position in mathematics at the University of Pittsburgh.One of their goals in a new city was to find a home for their orchids.Growing orchids is no idle hobby for the couple, who became enamored with them during a trip to South Florida about 30 years ago.They can tell you the difference between warm-weather orchids and those that can thrive in the North, always at temperatures no lower than 75 degrees. In fact, Taylor works for the American Orchid Society’s National Capital Judging Center, serving as chair.

The move after Frank’s retirement was motivated by the couple’s desire to be near their daughter and grandchildren – and, of course, a community of orchid lovers.

“Philadelphia has a wonderful community of orchid collectors, and Longwood Gardens has one of the best orchid gardens in the country,” Frank says.

The house they ultimately settled on was a Realtor’s suggestion: a dilapidated 3,400-square-foot 1960s rancher in Chestnut Hill that had been divided into a series of awkward, tiny rooms.

Both Frank and Taylor acknowledge they were initially skeptical about the house. For one thing, it was dark. Also the five bedrooms were small, and the place lacked warmth.

“We turned it down several times, but finally agreed to buy it,” Taylor says.

The impetus for that decision? The property had room for a greenhouse and a garden. The Slaughters’ limited budget had to accommodate constructing the greenhouse and making sure it was equipped to be warmed or cooled to the right temperature.

“We were told the house actually had good bones, and we proceeded to hire an architect that my daughter knew and hoped for the best,” Taylor says.

Architect Elie-Antoine Atallah, of Studio of Metropolitan Design, took the assignment, using the rancher as the basis for his design.

“It made me feel it was a creative challenge, to have to work within the frame of the existing house,” Atallah says. “It is a different challenge than starting from scratch with a site and no existing building.

“The first thing we did,” he says, “was gut the inside of the house.”

New heating and air conditioning had to be installed, along with gas lines to the building. To improve insulation, Atallah designed additional padding on the outside of the house and covered the frame with stucco.

“We had the exterior painted light gray so it would be similar to the color of the Wissahickon schist buildings in the neighborhood,” he says.

Inside, he designed a great room from what had been the living and dining rooms. An 8-foot ceiling in the living room was removed, and a 12-foot vaulted ceiling created by “popping” up the space with support.

A fireplace anchors one end of the room, offering a modern slant – literally – to a space adorned with traditional furnishings.

A more contemporary dining set perches on an oriental rug, one of several the Slaughters own.

In the kitchen, warm wood embraces the refrigerator and the island as well as the cabinetry. Polished metal accents on the counter stools and lighting offer cooling balance.

Sustainable features were installed, such as bamboo flooring and double- and triple-glass windows.

The bedrooms were reorganized into a master suite, a guest suite, and an office each for Taylor and Frank.

The new heat and water connections helped assure that the greenhouse Atallah designed for the space outside the kitchen would function at the right temperature for the orchids.

He also designed a 9-foot-high black wooden box that functions as a closet. Now, when you enter the house, your eyes meet a colorful oriental tapestry suspended on the closet wall, which also serves to block a view of the great room from anyone outside the front door,

Looking on at the changes – approvingly, it appears – from the foyer wall is Eliza Rebecca Northrop, Taylor’s great-great-great-grandmother, whose portrait was painted in the 1860s.

Are the Slaughters happy, too?

“Yes,” Taylor says. “We have gained sunlight . . . and our house is suddenly full of color.”


Chestnut Hill Local

Posted 29 

When most people think of Chestnut Hill architecture, they think of grand, 19th century homes built with Wissahickon schist.

But the Hill also is home to its fair share of modern homes, including the famous Vanna Venturi House and Louis Kahn’s Esherick House, both a stone’s through from Pastorius Park.

On Saturday, Oct. 10, a new modern home designed and built by local architect Elie-Antoine Atallah, will be part of Design Philadelphia’s weeklong “Shift Everything” event and will be open for tour to the public from 1 to 5 p.m.

The architect built the house for himself on land he bought on St. Andrews Road in 2011. He and his wife, Maureen, also an architect, planned the house, built it and moved in in October of 2014.

Atallah is the principal of Studio of Modern Architecture, a center city firm he founded in 1991.

Atallah, who grew up in Beiruit and Paris, moved to Mt. Airy in 1990. He and his wife had been looking to build a house and finally got the chance to buy land in Chestnut Hill – a feat that isn’t easy. And it’s one that introduced its own challenges, with the lot located within the Wissahickon Watershed.

“We had to determine what sort of footprint the lot would allow,” he said. “It turned out to be pretty small. We had to make choices. So we cantilevered part of the house over the footprint’s edge, which is acceptable. But we don’t have a garage.

“Both my wife and I are modernists. We live a very modern life in every way. When we started designing it, it was getting to generic modernist. But the Northwest at large has a very distinctive feel to it.”

In designing the house, Atallah turned to Kahn, who built quite a few homes in the area.

“Louis Kahn is one of my heroes,” he said. “I looked at his work and tried to grasp what he did. Looked at his material and how he used space. I used brick and cedar. Didn’t want to do an all-glass house.”

The result is a home in which bedrooms are built in a stack of suites, three in all, one above the other. The rest is open living space with plenty of natural light from large windows. It’s a house Atallah says he, his wife and their 17-year-old son have settled into.

Atallah said he’s been pleased to find that his neighbors have really taken to the home. And so has the general public. He said that one day as he was working inside the house, he noticed a large group of cyclists come to an abrupt halt in front of his home to stare at it.

“A lot of the neighbors were very welcoming,” he said. “When I garden or do stuff in the yard – St Andrews is big for joggers, bike riders and dog walkers – we get a lot of good comments. Children are totally taken by it. I should have put a camera on the roof to capture their reactions.”

Atallah said those touring his home on Oct. 10 would find art by two local artists in the house. There is a piece by sculptor Chris Ward and paintings by Kathy Hozack.

“They are wonderful people,” Atallah said. “I love the work they’ve done.”

Atallah’ s firm has built other  homes in the area. He said he knows of others who would like to do the same. Now a resident of the neighborhood, he understands why.

“We could have built in Lafayette Hill,” he said. “But this neighborhood is walkable. It feels like a village, and that’s very attractive, especially as you get older and you can have all your amenities and friends here.”



Organized Lab

2015 Issue No 2

Starting from Scratch: Designing the Organized Lab

What if you have the resources to design new laboratory space? Designing the ideal lab is trying to hit a moving target, as construction can take as many as three years for an entirely new building, and needs will almost certainly have evolved by that point.

Back Up and Observe First

If you really are starting from scratch, then invest the time to watch how students, scientists and lab techs use the space available to them now. This time spent in observation gives principal architect John Kapusnick, of Studio of Metropolitan Design Architects (Philadelphia, PA) a better sense of how the proposed space needs to function.

How the space lends itself to safe and efficient workflows is key. In other words, no one wants to spend all day bumping into equipment that is too big for the allotted space, for example, or notice that the eyewash is in an odd spot only when they need it. “I prefer to sit down with end users or managers and talk about their science,” John Kapusnick says. “If you begin by asking about their preferences for physical layout, they’ll go back to what they’ve always had. Instead, I ask about a typical workday or experiment, and how they would set it up.”

For example, he notes that observation often reveals that the operating footprint of an instrument can be much bigger than its physical size. He also plans placement of utilities, racks, benches and desks based on the functions people perform in their present space. He likes adjustable casework as a means to preserve flexibility when workflows change or storage needs evolve.


Saint Andrew Road Residence – Philadelphia, PA

Legendary Roots/  Philadelphia Magazine

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Philadelphia Magazine July 2015 Issue

Philadelphia Magazine July 2015 Issue


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Architecture Lab

Architecture Lab

AIA Philadelphia





2014 Board of Directors

AIA Philadelphia - Board of Directors

Dr. Berger Laboratory – University of Pennsylvania



Perelman Center of Advanced Medicine

Dr Berger Lab


Modern Design/Historic Setting: Residential

Redesign in Chestnut Hill, Pa.


Dr. Linksvayer Laboratory 

University of Pennsylvania

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