The Philadelphia City Council will consider several bills aimed at transforming thousands of vacant parcels into development districts, or a land bank. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the city spends an estimated $20 million on keeping up these tax-delinquent parcels. Council President Darrell L. Clarke will propose that the city create development districts on vacant, publicly owned land. The city would provide a number of incentives to entice developers to build on these properties, such as discounts, expedited permitting, and easy re-zoning. The city is also looking at establishing a land bank within the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation to take over these properties and then sell them at low prices.
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Bloomberg Philanthropies has announced the winners of its Mayors Challenge, a competition meant to generate innovative ideas for the improvement of city life. Out of the 300 cities that submitted proposals, the giving institution created by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg gave the Grand Prize for Innovation to Providence, RI, and its mayor, Angel Taveras. The city was awarded $5 million to implement its project, what Bloomberg Philanthropies called a "cutting-edge early education initiative." Under the initiative, participating children will wear a recording device home that will monitor the conversations they have with their parents or other adults. The transcripts of these conversations will then be used to develop weekly coaching sessions in which government monitors or someone will coach the grownups on how better to speak with their children. Bloomberg Philanthropies said it selected the "revolutionary approach" for the way it uses "proven technologies to measure vocabulary exposure in low-income households and help[s] parents close the word gap." Hello Big Brother! But, then, it's not a surprising choice coming from the man who has recently tried to ban jumbo sodas, did ban smoking in public places, and ordered the erection of signs at fast food restaurants telling consumers just how fat they're about to become. Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, and Santa Monica also made the top five list, each taking away $1 million to put toward the implementation of their own proposals. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to build a data system to help city leaders make better decisions to prevent problems before they happen. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will launch a new procurement process to make it easier for entrepreneurs and "social innovators" to answer RFPs. Santa Monica is developing an index to measure well-being and thereby make it part of policy making. Houston walked away with the Fan Favorite prize, which added $50,000 to its purse. This prize was co-sponsored by the Huffington Post and resulted from 58,000 votes. Bayou City mayor Annise Parker is developing a one-bin recycling program, or One Bin For All, as it is called. The measure will save citizens the nuisance of sorting their refuse. Instead, recyclables will be separated from regular garbage at transfer facilities, with the goal of recycling 75 percent of all waste. Houston is currently seeking a private company to partner with on the project. In addition to the money, each of the five members will receive a trophy designed by international art star Olafur Eliasson. While no image of the trophy was available at blog time, a description was: "The Mayors Challenge Prize for Innovation award is a spherical sculpture formed by three concentric circles—square, circle, and dodecagon—encircling a hanging compass. The compass indicates steadily north, uniting the prize winners and assisting viewers in imagining their collective responsibility to navigate towards the greater good for all."
On Friday, three winners of the Infill Philadelphia: Soak It Up! design competition were announced following deliberation by a jury of sustainable stormwater infrastructure industry insiders at Drexel University on Thursday. Created by the Philadelphia Water Department, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Community Design Collaborative, the competition called for creative and sustainable solutions for Philadelphia’s stormwater management. Architects, landscape architects, engineers, and other professionals formed 28 teams to provide innovative means for urban infrastructure to transform the city. From nine finalists, three winners were selected, each responding to a different urban context (industrial, commercial, and neighborhood) and cashing in on the $10,000 prize. Winner, Neighborhood - Greening the Grid Meeting Green (Pictured at top) Team Members: OLIN, Philadelphia, PA Gilmore & Associates, New Britain, PA International Consultants, Philadelphia, PA MM Partners, Philadelphia, PA Penn Praxis SMP Architects, Philadelphia, PA Winner, Commercial - Retail Retrofit Stormwater reStore Team Members: Urban Engineers, Philadelphia, PA Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, New York, NY Spiezle Architectural Group, Trenton, NJ Winner, Industrial - Warehouse Watershed Leveraging Water + Plants in Zero Lot Sites Team Members: Roofmeadow, Philadelphia, PA In Posse - A Subsidiary of AKF, Philadelphia, PA m2 Architecture, Philadelphia, PA Meliora Environmental Design, Phoenixville, PA SED Design, Blue Bell, PA Sere, Spring Mills, PA
A new affordable housing project designed by Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) is in the works for Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) seniors in the City of Brotherly Love—it will be the second of its kind in the nation. Hidden Philadelphia reported that construction on this 56-unit complex, called the John C. Anderson Apartments, has already commenced and will be located on 13th Street right in the heart of the Washington Square West neighborhood, a part of Philadelphia that has long been home to a gay and lesbian community. The development is named after city councilman John C. Anderson who was "instrumental in the passage of Philadelphia’s civil rights bill for sexual minority people." Developer Pennrose Properties, along with Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund and Gay News publisher Mark Segal, have spearheaded this $19.5 million development. The project will provide housing for low-income seniors 62 years or older. The six-story building will consist of one-bedroom units, 1,800-square-feet of commercial space, a green courtyard, and a partial green roof.
The Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe, entering its 17th year of performances, will celebrate the groundbreaking of its new 10,000-square-foot headquarters on February 25th. The arts organization has purchased a former fire hydrant pumping station, built over a century ago, right near the Old City and the Delaware River waterfront. Partner Antonio Fiol-Silva of landscape architecture firm WRT (formerly Wallace Roberts Todd), will lead the renovation. The new headquarters will include a 225-seat theater, a rehearsal studio, a gastro-pub style restaurant, an outdoor plaza for performances and outdoor dining, administrative offices, and a permanent festival hub.
Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania have been at the forefront of the education of American architects since the late 19th century. This past weekend, the University's School of Design held a two day conference, Architecture Education Goes Outside Itself, on the evolution of architecture education in the past century-and-a-half from the first "school"—a correspondence course created in nearby Scranton, PA. A group of young scholars selected, and perhaps inspired, by Penn professor Joan Ockman (whose important new book, Architecture Education: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America, thoroughly covers the subject) presented papers on America's always-evolving efforts to initiate and rethink the education of architects. From the debates on the value of aesthetics versus technical requirements and the AIA's desire to direct educational policy, to Lewis Mumford's attempt to open up architects to outside influences and Sigfried Giedion's plans to bring history to Harvard despite Walter Gropius' ambivalent relationship to teaching history, these scholars focused on dozens of important moments of change in architecture schools. In the post-World War II period there were papers on G. Holmes Perkins experiments at Penn, Feminist summer schools and the AA unit system and it's influence in America, travel as a form of knowledge in design studies starting with the Venturi's Yale trip to learn from Las Vegas and teaching at historically black colleges and universities. In all of these sessions the question of the future of design education seemed never to be far from the speakers' and audience's interest and concerns. Penn dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor and professor David Leatherbarrow provided the right amount of levity, insight and passion to keep the symposium focused and on point throughout the two days of talks and discussion. Finally the university's glorious architectural archives were put on view in a special exhibition in their Kroiz Gallery that focused on education topics. A entire series of water damaged boards from Venturi's studio visit to Levittown complimented Beaux Arts renderings and Robert le Ricolais models in the exhibition which is open to the public.
A bike-share program is on the horizon for Philadelphia. In the last few months, the city has taken a number of steps to move the initiative forward. After setting aside $3 million in funding for the program, a selection committee—made up of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council—released a Request For a Proposals (RFP) for a strategic business plan, consulting, and cost estimate services. Now, a winner has been announced. The selection committee received a total of six submissions from urban planning firms across the country, later inviting three finalists to come in for an interview, including Bike Nation, Nelson Nygaard and E3 Think, and the Toole Design Group. And, the Toole Design Group has just been named the winner of the RFP. Spencer Finch, Director of Sustainable Infrastructure at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, said the Washington DC-based Toole Design Group submitted the winning proposal because they “brought the experience” and the “financial analysis to do to the work.” RJ Eldridge, Director of Planning at Toole, will lead this project and collaborate with Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning, a regional transportation planning firm in Rockville, MD. The Toole Design Group appears to be a logical choice. The firm just completed a manual, “Bike Sharing in The United States: State of the Practice and Guide to Implementation,” for the Federal Highway Administration on all existing bike-sharing programs across the country. The business plan will explore different options for financing the program from purely private or purely public funding to a “hybrid model” of state and federal funding, along with non-profit and private sponsorship. The selection committee plans to make a formal announcement later this week and expects the business plan to be completed by this May. The program is scheduled to launch by 2014, and make over 1,000 bikes available at about 100 stations across the city by the following year.
West Market Street, a once seedy part of Philadelphia, is set to undergo a transformation in the near future. PlanPhilly reported that the Philadelphia City Planning Commission (PCPC) released a new report that recommends creating mixed-use developments centered around transit stops. A few of the projects slated for the West Market Corridor include a transit-related development called New West, a building for police administration and other city services, and a redevelopment of a large parking lot. While the plans call for mixed-use, housing will play a lesser part in the development since population is decreasing, which “makes demand for housing pretty tough” said Planning Commission Chairman and Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger. To move this plan forward, PCPC will need to revise zoning maps, work with property owners in the area, and look into a tax credit program.
KieranTimberlake has been looking to buy a building for over a decade now, and after a long search, the Philadelphia firm is putting down roots in the Northern Liberties neighborhood with the recent purchase of the 1948 Henry F. Ortlieb Company Bottling House. The firm’s substantial growth first prompted the partners, James Timberlake and Stephen Kieran, to search for a new home, and this two-story, 63,000 sq foot building located on the Ortlieb campus will provide more than enough space to accommodate the firm’s 90 plus employees. Timberlake and Kieran have drafted a preliminary plan for all three levels of the building, designed by architect Richard Koelle of William F. Koelle & Co. and a protégé of Paul Cret, and will begin renovations in 2013. The exterior will remain the same, but the ground floor will house a workshop and the second floor will be transformed into studio, office, and conference space. Timberlake says the building features the hallmark details of contemporary post-war era design such as stripped windows, industrial sashes, and linear light on the top floor. “What appealed to us about it is that it is a piece of modern industrial architecture from the late 1940s still intact in Philadelphia. And from the outside it is a contributing piece to the neighborhood,” says Timberlake. “It affords a column free space that suits our culture very nicely.” KieranTimberlake will begin to make improvements to the envelope within the next six to nine weeks and the firm is currently moving ahead with a sustainability study to devise a strategy to make the project environmentally ethical. They’re exploring the possibility of ventilating the building naturally and implementing day lighting with the help of lighting designer Charles Stone from Fisher Marantz Stone. KieranTimberlake has been the architect for projects such as the US Embassy in London and the Sculpture and Gallery Building at Yale University, and will be working on a series of buildings and a 1700-acre site design for the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center.
Philadelphia Planning Commissioners have approved several major projects for development on or near the Central Delaware Waterfront. 205 Race Street, designed by Peter Gluck, was granted several zoning variances despite mixed reactions from Old City community members. Plans to develop mixed-use residential buildings and new public space on Piers 34 and 35 were also approved.
Last week Philadelphia’s new zoning code went into effect, but projects nurtured under the old code may still be rising. Just yesterday, architect Peter Gluck presented a tower proposal to the Old City Civic Association for a 16-story building adjacent to the Ben Franklin Bridge. Because the zoning permits were filed last month the building is subject to old code. Gluck’s presentation of 205 Race Street soured when new renderings revealed that an early proposal by SHoP Architects, initially approved at a 100-foot height, had morphed into a 197-foot tower that sets back from Race Street, PlanPhilly reported. The group voted 11 to 1 to oppose the project. In a phone interview on his way back to New York from the presentation, Gluck said that the timing was coincidental. He added that the design phase of the project began more than a year ago, when political wrangling surrounding zoning legislation made the outcome of the code anything but certain. Gluck and the developer Jeffery Brown decided to move forward while the zoning debates played out. “We knew what was going on,” Gluck said. “We designed it not for the zoning strictures, but what made sense urbanistically and what was doable from an economic standpoint.” Gluck would not comment on curtain wall materials or engineering while the building is in the midst of the permitting process. But he did say that the taller height was a shift in massing intended to respond to the neighborhood context, adding that volume remains much the same. The initially approved building was 100 feet high all the way around its perimeter. The architect said the new design creates a lower parapet at 56 feet along Race Street, before setting back 14 feet and allowing the 197-foot high tower to rise. The setback would make way for a green roof and a two-story cutout into tower along the Race Street side. The design’s new Race Street height is intended to offer clear views of the bridge, while emphasizing the corridor leading to the recently completed Race Street Pier. The tower is intended to respond to the height of the bridge, though detractors point out that the new code addresses nearby building height and not the bridge. Copious amounts of space would be set aside for a ground floor retailer with a glass storefront wrapping around Second Street. The glazing would give way to service docks along Florist Street, which runs just under the bridge. In an area known for its narrow colonial streets, Gluck said that the bridge allows the Florist Street service docks to be uniquely qualified to accommodate large trucks needed to service a supermarket. It’s an amenity that Gluck said the area needs, along with the people to use it. “Old city desperately needs population and retail, the kind of things that make a city work,” said Gluck. “Right now there’s a very long derelict area and our project is meant to enhance that movement toward the pier.”
The Friends of Frank Furness Facebook page is lit with tributes to the Philadelphia architect who died 100 years ago today. Furness diehards made the trek to his grave last Sunday. The remains of the civil war veteran and architect were lost until a group seeking to pay tribute to Medal of Honor recipients got in touch with Laurel Hill Cemetery to find him fifteen years ago. A modest military headstone marks the final resting place, but far more impressive monuments, in the form of his masterworks, dot the streetscape of Center City, Philadelphia. But given the choice, what building by Furness would be his greatest monument? Is it the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts? The Venturi-restored Fisher Fine Arts Library at Penn? Or, perhaps one his multi gabled-grand homes, like Dolobran? Or would it be one of the dozens of small, but fanciful homes that animate downtown, or a modest church in South Philly? In one online video, Venturi pantomimes the prayerful bow he makes each time he passes the Academy. Amen.