In 1997 brothers, Tim and Pat McDonald, began Onion Flats by purchasing a 200 year old, five story building in the Old City section of Philadelphia, with the intention of 1. Creating a space for the family to work together, 2. Providing Tim with a free space on the ground floor to open Philly’s first architecture gallery called FAARM, 3. Having the building pay for itself, and 4. Testing the limits of the forgotten strengths of the architect/builder. The last thing on their minds was to create a development/design/build company that would consume their previous careers, lives and the lives of friends and family for the next ten years.

In 2005 as brother Johnny McDonald and longtime friend and architect Howard Steinberg joined the team, Onion Flats, in many ways, grew up, or more correctly, became more serious about its play.  With this new structure in place, the Onion family began to push the boundaries of sustainable urban development, completing the first LEED Platinum projects and then beyond to Passive House & Net-Zero-capable in the city, region, and even country.  In addition to our own developments Plumbob & JIG/Grass began providing innovative solutions to like-minded clients.

Today the Onion Flats network of companies has refocused its vision as: Onion Flats ARCHITECTURE, Onion Flats DEVELOPMENT, Onion Flats CONSTRUCTION, and G.R.A.S.S.  While we return to “our roots” these distinct yet integrated divisions allow us to branch out even further to provide greater opportunities to holistically serve our clients, collaborate with our partners, and grow an even greener future for Philadelphia and beyond.

Left Photo - Mid Left

As a ‘critique’ of contemporary architectural and building theory and practice, Onion Flats’ mission has, since 1997, been fourfold:

Extend the imagination of the architect beyond the drawing board and into the building process.

Educate the public about the collaborative role of the architect in not only the making of buildings but of culture and meaning in contemporary society.

Reestablish a space of dialogue and respect between members of the architectural and building communities.

Empower a younger generation of architects, builders and craftsmen to continue to dream.

Oh brother what have I gotten myself into!