1100 Architect combines a 1851 cottage with a modern research center on University of Pennsylvania’s campus
The cottage 165 years ago featured fake limestone—stucco scored to look like a French stone chateau in suburban Philadelphia. Today, the new structure, employs a closed facade featuring real limestone blocks.
In 1865, “hat and cap merchant” Robert D. Work purchased a Gothic Revival cottage at 3803 Locust Walk in West Philadelphia, riding the wave of the migration to the suburbs. This cottage, designed by prolific architect and author Samuel Sloan, was built in 1851. It now forms part of the Perry World House—a new destination on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus courtesy of New Yorkstudio 1100 Architect.
Work’s cottage 165 years ago featured fake limestone—stucco scored to look like a French stone chateau in suburban Philadelphia. Today, the new structure, which officially opened September 20, employs a closed facade featuring real limestone blocks hanging from a steel, barn-like perimeter cage.
“The project presented the challenge of putting history adjacent to modernity in the most blunt and direct way,” said cofounder of 1100 Architect David Piscuskas. Though limestone carries connotations of weight, the facade respectfully resists falling flush to the cottage’s shingles, following this sight-line down the rest of the front elevation.
In addition, a cage structure facilitates a more or less column-free interior. This provided freedom when mapping out areas of circulation and spaces for interactivity. (The building has a capacity of 554.)
“Any structural columns that are there are hidden very well,” said Piscuskas, the soon-to-be AIA president of the New York chapter. Despite the closed facade, the building maintains a sense of transparency from both outside and within. “The way that you move through this building is celebrated and is on view at all times,” Piscuskas added. From the outside, wide, metal-framed oriel windows facing the street allow passerby to see inside: Bridges, staircases, and open social spaces are all on display.
Elements of the original structure can be found inside, too. An original wall from the cottage is near the foyer. On the second floor, a meeting room translates the language of the facade as an extrusion through the space. A pitched ceiling creates a sense of verticality resulting from combining the cottage’s original second floor and attic and restructuring the roof.
On South 38th Street, the Wharton School’s imposing building once jarred with the quaint stylings of this 19th-century cottage six lanes of traffic away. Now, its impact is less severe, thanks to the new massing that still manages to mirror and echo the former suburban vernacular. Made up almost entirely of glass fenestration, the double-height venue gets a generous dose of daylight, making it an attractive place to meet. The roof comprises a series of pitches, all varying in height, which creates a contemporary expression of the original gables.
Form was also guided by inconveniences, such as a manhole encroaching on the building’s footprint. “We saw this as an opportunity to have more fun,” said Piscuskas, who described how a chunk carved from a corner was a workaround that aligned with the rest of the building’s similar geometry. The site’s topography, too, falls in line with the angular aesthetic as open space in the rear slopes down to the street.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that something named "1200 Intrepid" is a ship (or at least a boat), especially when it's located at the Navy Yard Corporate Center. In fact, that is the name of Bjarke Ingels Group's (BIG) first building in Philly and first-ever office building. Spanning 92,000 square feet, 1200 Intrepid takes on ship-like qualities through more than just its name: its warped facade emulates the hull of warships docked nearby.
The four-story building will occupy land between James Corner Field Operations' Central Green Park and the Navy Yard's basin. It's hull-esque facade also curves in sync with the circular layout of the adjacent park. Fenestration on this side is arranged with alternating pre-cast concrete panels that express the building's height and visually exaggerate the angle of inclination. These gradually loom over the tree-lined path that traces the edge and provides shelter of sorts for the walkway. The building's other facades offer more traditional, orthogonal elevations while maintaining the paneling facade system.
“The ‘shock wave’ of the public space spreads like rings in the water, invading the footprint of the building to create a generous urban canopy at the entrance," said Ingels in a press release. "The resultant double-curved facade echoes the complex yet rational geometries of maritime architecture. Inside, the elevator lobby forms an actual periscope, allowing people to admire the mothballed ships at the adjacent docks.”
Inside 1200 Intrepid, generous ceiling heights mean office spaces are bathed in sufficient amounts of daylight. A central atrium creates a dialogue between the floors: though rectangular, its twist incrementally references the building's signature facade.
"In many cases, architects design big, boxy buildings that could be placed anywhere and don’t connect directly to the site," said Kai-Uwe Bergmann, a partner at BIG. "You would really be hard-pressed to place 1200 Intrepid anywhere else, due to how it connects with its surroundings. Our commission involved creating a speculative office building, for which no tenants were committed. The key challenge here was to create a reason for tenants to be here with the constraint of a stringent budget.”
Berlin-based, Burkina Faso–born Diebedo Francis Kéré is far from a typical architect, and his current one-man exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on display through September 25, is also far from typical.
Kéré, 51, was born in Gando, an agricultural village in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, which has one of the world’s poorest and least educated populations. The first son of the tribal head of Gando, he was the only child in his village permitted to attend school, which he did in Burkina Faso’s second largest city, not far from Gando. He apprenticed to a carpenter there and in 1985 received a scholarship for a training program in Germany. After taking night classes in Berlin to earn his high school diploma, he studied architecture at the Technische Universitate and established his architecture practice there in 2005.
One of his earliest projects—which won him the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004 and a prominent role in MoMA’s 2010 exhibition, Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement—is the 1999–2001 primary school he designed for Gando, which illustrates the cover of MoMA’s exhibition catalogue. It consists of three detached, rectangular classrooms, constructed of adobe and cement bricks, hand-made by locals; the school is covered with a corrugated metal roof and a dry-stacked ceiling of clay bricks that lets hot air escape from the classroom interiors.
According to the MoMA catalogue—which describes the construction of the school as “truly a community endeavor”—some Gando workers who built the school subsequently became skilled laborers on other projects, while local families’ interest in the school skyrocketed, with the enrollment of children who previously did not attend school from surrounding villages.
Kéré’s work in Gando continues. It’s illustrated in the Philadelphia exhibition with photographs, and actual building materials and tools, such as clay and wood samples, machine-pressed and hand-formed bricks, and laterite stones. He has designed teachers’ housing and an extension of the primary school, both complete, while a primary school library and a center for sustainable construction technologies and research are under construction.
Tall kiosks throughout the exhibition feature photographs of Kéré’s past, present, and future projects in Africa, including the Center for Earth Architecture in Mopti, Mali, and the Obama Legacy Campus in Kogelo, Kenya, birthplace of President Barack Obama’s father, as well as his work in Europe and the United States. The former includes a Camper pop-up store at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany; an installation at this year’s Fuorisalone in Milan inspired by the social and spatial dynamics of a typical African village; and the repurposing of former military barracks in Mannheim, Germany, into a hub for local engineering industries, now under development. His only U.S. project so far is the Place for Gathering, a “seating terrain” of locally-sourced wood that was designed for visitors from around the world attending the Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Also unusual in the Philadelphia exhibition is the subject matter and presentation of three videos, all shot in Africa and never displayed before. One video about a recently built school in Koudougou, Burkina Faso, depicts many stages of the project, all performed by locals without the use of heavy machinery. Seating here is provided by chairs made in Philadelphia, using the same materials (steel rebar and plywood) and design as Kéré’s chairs for Burkina Faso schools. Another video, which depicts overhead enclosures—including tree canopies, traditional thatch, and modern roofs made of steel trusses—was shot skyward and is shown on a large monitor hanging from the ceiling; a viewing platform below encourages visitors to lie back and observe. The third video, projected from the ceiling directly onto the floor below, explores the concept of shadow, whether in a classroom with chalkboards and desks, or under a baobab tree, and how shadows facilitate learning. One can walk into the projection, literally stepping into the gathering place.
Visitors pass the final part of the exhibition, a site-specific installation called Colorscape, as they enter the exhibition’s primary gallery, Suspended from the museum’s ceiling are steel frames threaded with hundreds of pieces of Philadelphia-made lightweight cord in many different colors. The rectilinear layout of the frames represents the formally-planned grid of William Penn’s Philadelphia, while the paths and spaces carved from the mass of strings represent the organic grid of Gando.
Those passing through the variously colored elements also can hear the Sounds of the Village, audio recorded in both Burkina Faso and Philadelphia, the former including sounds of the wind, birds, and chickens, the latter sounds of local streets and a Philadelphia Flyers hockey game. Just as Kéré enlists local people to work on his projects in Africa, Philadelphians—including University of Pennsylvania architecture students, museum staff, volunteers, and visitors—helped construct this installation.
In Gando and other agrarian societies, children learn from their elders, who teach them orally; they also learn by doing. Similarly, since he started his practice, Kéré has aimed to communicate design and architecture simply and directly, to be understood by African laborers not educated in reading sophisticated plans or architectural drawings, as well as by children. All these concepts inform the Philadelphia exhibition, stimulating thought and visual pleasure.
The Architecture of Francis Kéré: Building for Community runs through September 25, 2016. For more on the exhibit, visit here.
University City, a neighborhood in central Philadelphia, on the Schuylkill River, is in for some major changes in the coming decades, thanks to a new redevelopment initiative from Amtrak with the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), BrandywineRealty Trust, and Drexel University. 30th Street Station will be the center point of the overhaul, which is part of a vision to build a dense urban neighborhood over a rail yard along the river.
The redevelopment site consists of a total of 175 acres in University City, 88 of which are occupied by the rail yard. The report and renderings released in the 30th Street Station District Plan are the culmination of a two-year study of the site, which extends east of Drexel’s campus, between Walnut and Spring Garden streets, and northeast from 30th Street Station.
The ambitious plan will be put into place over the course of 35 years, starting with capping off the existing Amtrak rail yard to accommodate a proposed 10 million square feet of development. The area will see a total of 18 million square feet of new development and will include housing for ten thousand residents. It will also offer 1.2 million square feet of commercial space to an individual corporate or institutional tenant.
Currently, 30th Street Station serves as one of the central hubs for Amtrak trains on the East Coast and is also a stop on the SEPTA Regional Rail line. The station building, along with the rail yard, is owned by Amtrak and was last renovated in 1991. One prominent feature of the station is the Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial, a 28-foot bronze sculpture of Michael the archangel.
The project is expected to cost $6.5 billion, with $2 billion going to infrastructure investments and the other $4.5 billion to private investment. Among the infrastructure improvements may be the relocation of a ramp for the Schuylkill Expressway in favor of an intercity bus terminal. A new pedestrian plaza will surround the existing train station.
Preliminary renderings put emphasis on expanding parks and public spaces, as well as adding high-rise commercial and residential buildings to the area. According to the official report released by the district, an opportunity exists for the plaza around the station to become a “central civic space,” akin to the one at city hall. The station saw 11 million passengers last year, and the district expects ridership to double by 2040, following Amtrak and SEPTA improvements. The development counts on this ridership to anchor growth around the station.
The name University City was coined as a marketing tactic, in the 1950s, as part of a gentrification effort, to encourage faculty of the University of Pennsylvania and, to a lesser degree, Drexel University to move there.
This redevelopment isn’t the first sign of growth for the neighborhood. Much of University City is a designated “Keystone Innovation Zone,” a program started by the state of Pennsylvania to encourage start-up companies to populate Philadelphia. The program offers tax breaks of up to $100,000 annually for businesses younger than eight years old operating in the Innovation Zone. New companies in the science and research fields are also drawn to the incubator at the University City Science Center, which is in the process of a major expansion. According to a recent report, firms that were incubated at the Science Center bring $12.9 billion to the Greater Philadelphia economy each year.
Amtrak’s first steps are expected to be finalizing the design of the pedestrian plaza and receiving permission from PennDOT to relocate the highway ramp. More detail on the plan can be found here.
With its limited financial resources, Philadelphia can’t save all the buildings in the city that deserve protection. But one structure that city officials are preserving is the 1960 Fairmount Park Welcome Center at JFK Plaza/LOVE Park, a round pavilion that locals have dubbed the “saucer” due to its Jetson-like qualities.
Designed by Roy Larson of Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson, the building renovation is part of a $16.5 million upgrade to LOVE Park, at John F. Kennedy Boulevard and North 15th Street, well known for its Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture. The work is being described as a retrofit rather than a pure restoration.
Local firm KieranTimberlake will head the Welcome Center upgrade and prepare the building for use as both a visitor center and setting for a food and beverage operation. Hargreaves Associates is the landscape architect leading the park makeover, slated for completion by spring 2017, and Pentagram is the graphic designer.
The Welcome Center is getting energy-efficient glazing, a green roof, upgraded systems, and improvements to make it more accessible to the disabled. As part of the project, Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy commissioned Chromoscope, a ceiling mural by husband and wife artists Tom Drugan and Laura Haddad of Seattle, under its “percent for art” program.
According to the artists, who are working with local lighting design firm The Lighting Practice, the ceiling mural is made with aluminum panels printed in saturated colors with archival ink. The image is composed of distinct patterns in separate colors, layered and blended to create an abstract pattern. In daylight, all of the layered images will be visible at once, resulting in an abstract pattern.
At night, red, green, and blue LED lights will transition through a variety of hues, durations, and sequences on the mural. The timing, speed, and type of color fades can be composed to create a variety of effects for different times and events. As the light color changes, the imagery changes, resulting in a kinetic optical effect that appears to animate the structure itself.
“The art reinstates the pavilion’s original lighting concept as a ‘lantern,’ but will be visually dynamic and compelling at all times,” the artists said. “From a distance, the dynamic pattern will
embody the motion and modernist power of the original Welcome Center, which was conceived as an emblem of futurist ambition.”
Over the holiday weekend, SEPTA revealed that it had taken a third of its passenger rail cars out of service due to "structural defects." 120 Silverliner V cars will be out of commission until crucial repairs are performed.
According to an agency spokeswoman, the six-year-old cars were taken off the tracks July 1 after staff noticed some of the cars leaning off-center, The Philadelphia Inquirerreports.
Due to the fleet's overnight shrinkage, some stakeholders raised concerns over commuting delays post-July 4. Those fears of long waits and crowded trains were borne out in full: With 12,000 fewer seats, some commuters are experiencing travel times double and triple the usual length. Local news outlets report riders standing between cars, and recommend alternative forms of transit.
Rideshare apps Uber and Lyft are capitalizing on the SEPTA fiasco: Uber's offering 40 percent discount on rides to and from regional rail stations, while Lyft is offering $50 off the first ride for new users.
For all the hassle, SEPTA maintains that the car's flaws don't threaten riders' safety, and the decision to take cars offline was done out of an abundance of caution. On most days, up to 15 percent of the system's 400 cars are out of service for maintenance and repair.
New trains, including Amtrak's high-speed Acela, have growing pains. In 2010, SEPTA spent $330 million in capital funds to expand its fleet and meet growing demand for regional rail service. The cars, manufactured by a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Group and assembled in Philadelphia, have been plagued by mechanical issues, namely doors don't function properly in very cold weather, since operations began:
In its fourth iteration, the "The Oval" pop-up park on Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway will open on July 15, in time for the Democratic National Convention.
This year Brad Carney, a local artist, will unveil his 25,000-square-foot mural: Rhythm & Hues. Carney, who has worked on more than 30 murals during his artistic career, aims to create "a full-scale music-inspired abstract experience" that "goes beyond the painted mural with complementary art activities all summer long." He has also worked on 20 projects with the Mural Arts group in the past 14 years.
Music is a key theme to the pop-up park event and Carney's mural's "whimsical gestures of movement and musical rhythm" cater for the event's other main attraction, the Orchestra Pit. An open area, the Orchestra Pit will be filled with an ensemble of instruments for public performances. Meanwhile, other artistic activities for children and adults will be available, involving the creation of one's own musical instrument and other music-inspired artworks.
Initially only intended to run for three years, The Oval's success has kept it alive. “It was a pretty easy decision,” said Marc Wilken, Parks Concession Manager at Philadelphia's Parks & Recreation Department. “I think it was a successful experience the last 3 years. It was well received by the community and the city at-large and we felt it just made sense to do another run. When we saw the numbers of people coming out, it just made sense to bring it back,” he added.
University City in central Philadelphia is in for some major changes in the coming decades thanks to a new redevelopment plan from Amtrak and partners SEPTA, Brandywine Realty Trust, and Drexel University. 30th Street Station will be the center point of the overhaul, which will see a new, dense urban neighborhood rise over a rail yard along the Schuylkill River. (Read our prior coverage of the SOM-led design of the plan here.)
The ambitious plan will be put into place over the course of 35 years, starting with capping of the existing Amtrak rail yard to accommodate a proposed 10 million square feet of development. The total plan will consist of 18 million square feet of new development and will include housing for 10,000 residents. The development also offers 1.2 million square feet of commercial space to an individual corporate or institutional tenant.
The project is expected to cost $6.5 billion, with $2 billion going to infrastructure investments and the other $4.5 billion coming from developers. Among the infrastructure improvements is a plan to relocate a ramp for the Schuylkill Expressway in favor of an intercity bus terminal. A new pedestrian plaza will surround the existing train station. The station itself will also receive a major renovation that will add retail space and a new concourse.
The redevelopment site consists of a total of 175 acres in the University City neighborhood, 88 of which is occupied by the rail yard. This plan is the culmination of a two-year study of the site, which extends east of Drexel’s campus between Walnut and Spring Garden Streets and northeast from 30th Street Station.
The official blueprint will be released on Thursday morning. Amtrak’s first steps in executing the plan are expected to be the planning of the pedestrian plaza and receiving permission from PennDOT to relocate the highway ramp.
At the start of the year, AN reported that Oslo and New York-based firm Snøhetta's library for Temple University Library had the potential to spell the end of books.
This would be the firm's eleventh library, and while Snøhetta has opened a book-less library before in Toronto for Ryerson University, this design emphasizes transparency and openness as key themes. Evidenced in Snøhetta's latest renderings, a glass curtain wall wraps round the library's upper floors allowing light to fill the space. Snøhetta's nighttime render, however, finally shows people what the interior of these levels will encompass.
In terms of its interiors, the 225,000-square-foot building appears to extensively make use of wood detailing in sweeping archways that form the main entrances and atrium. On the ground floor, wood is used as a balustrade to surround circular void, stairways and interior cladding.
Despite advocating the use of an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) that allows the library to devote more square footage to “learning spaces” and less space to book stacks, space for some books can still be seen in Snøhetta's latest renderings. Located on the top floor, the books form part of a large study space that is bathed in daylight.
The library is one part of a $300 million campus expansion plan that includes a to-be-built quadrangle, the public space at the heart of the campus’ new social and academic core. The library, which is the university's most expensive construction project to date, is due to be complete by 2018.
A mixed-use complex designed by New York-based Morris Adjmi, in collaboration with Philadelphia-based practice Onion Flats Architecture, was widely praised at a monthly Civic Design Review (CDR) in Philadelphia.
Located on 4300-4326 Ridge Avenue in the East Falls neighborhood, the scheme required CDR approval due to it encompassing more than 100,000 square feet of gross floor area, and more than 100 new dwelling units. Known as "Ridge Flats," the project has been in the works since at least 2011 when the proposal, then originally just by local practice Onion Flats was given the go ahead by authorities.
The complex was due to be built by 2014, but three years ago the CDR committee advised altering the building's primary access point. "By virtue of that we had to redesign it entirely because of the way it affected parking," said David Grosso of Grasso Holdings, the developer behind the project.
Since then Morris Adjmi has has stepped in and plans have been drastically changed to offer a staggered facade and a much larger courtyard. The scheme will be built on a 1.7-acre plot and offer 206 residential units—up from the originally planned 147. A fifth of these will come already furnished meanwhile plans also include 20,188 square feet of commercial space, a rooftop pool area, and a garage that will hold 194 parking spaces.
Totaling 236,084-square-feet, the scheme retreats from Kelly Drive and is orientated southward toward the Schuylkill River. A green wall will be located on this side of the building and is set to a host living art installation as per the Percent for Art Program.
After enjoying success at the CDR, plans will now go to the Zoning Board of Appeals and the City Planning Commission. Despite the praise offered, however, the CDR did make some suggestions.
Nancy Rogo Trainer, the committee chair, spoke out against the "monolithic" north-side elevation that looks onto Ridge Avenue. "It makes the building seem a little relentless. It would be terrific if there was some way of breaking up what could be a very monotonous building," she said.
Other suggestions included integrating the ground level with more public spaces and varying the color scheme with the paneled facades.
As architects descend for the 2016 AIA National Convention, the City of Brotherly Love will be in the spotlight. Philadelphia was just named a World Heritage City, the first in the United States. Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi will be awarded the AIA Gold Medal during the convention and a new mayor is fighting to preserve the city’s landmarks, which include the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia City Hall, and a host of modern and postmodern relics—not to mention the urban fabric that composes the neighborhoods. For this occasion, editor-in-chief William Menking and senior editor Matt Shaw sat down with Scott Brown at her and Venturi’s home in suburban Philadelphia. (Also, our "reader" of past articles can help you get up to speed on Philly, the AIA, and this year's speakers.)
The Architect’s Newspaper: Can you talk about what brought you to Philadelphia to study and teach?
Denise Scott Brown: Peter and Alison Smithson, our gurus at the London Architectural Association (Peter wasn’t teaching there then) intrigued us with their New Brutalism. After the war, young architects with passion wanted to follow Le Corbusier’s urban visions and rebuild Europe’s cities, and the brightest wanted to study urban planning in America first. But the Smithsons contested the idea of “decanting” the London poor into the rural, middle-class “New Towns,” and produced models following their street-life patterns for rebuilding in cities on bombed sites. This is what Brutalism stood for then, not the overwrought use of unfinished concrete. The Smithsons and Louis Kahn met over debates on this subject through CIAM and their 15-year correspondence is in the Smithson archives at Harvard. So when Peter said the only place to go for city planning was the University of Pennsylvania because Louis Kahn taught there, Robert Scott Brown and I went.
But before we left, we read an article in Time Magazine about Philadelphia and the planning we would encounter there thanks to its liberal reform government. A “white noose” of suburbs lay around the neck of a center city that was half black and half white, and measures were under discussion to keep blacks out of Philadelphia’s center. I was surprised. This was not happening secretly—it was openly discussed—just like in my sad and miserable country of South Africa, people in Philadelphia were practicing apartheid.
In the 1940s, South Africa was in social turmoil. I grew up with it and came away with a guilty conscience and sympathy for African needs. In England there was socialism and more turmoil, but in the late 50s, America decorum ruled—sloppy joes, long skirts, and bobby sox were in style—not protest. Yet within two years, the social turmoil familiar to me was here, too. We arrived from our experiences of Africa and Europe with lots of questions, and were happy to find not answers, but ways to search for them. At the semester’s end Herbert Gans, our sociology professor, said, “You came with such interesting questions. Where are the answers?” We were all very young, but I have since said to Herb, “You didn’t have answers, why did you expect us to have them?”
In the 1940s Kahn belonged to a citizens’ group for city planning that convened under the reformed government and was good at purveying planning facts via metaphors intriguing to architects. The ideas in his famous street plan came from this group—our transportation professor, Robert Mitchell, belonged too, and behind Lou’s plan I recognized the content of Mitchell’s lectures.
Robert Scott Brown and I entered planning school hoping to study early modern planning ideas, like Arturo Soria y Mata’s linear city. We thought it was an interesting
solution to urban-rural disconnection in mass cities. Trains, we suggested, should travel at 100 miles an hour. When teachers observed that would be too fast for transit stops, we replied, “That doesn’t matter!” We were early modern machine romantics.
Formulating the questions was Penn’s planning school’s strength. But we learned it from social scientists and activists, not architects. Faculty and students in the architecture department were unaware it was happening.
The planning school was in the school of architecture?
Yes. How did a great socially based planning school develop in a school of architecture? The key was research. When federal urban renewal programs were created in the 1940s, research was mandated. But where would you put it? At first, architecture schools where cities were designed were the only receptacles for this largesse. So Penn’s Institute for Urban Studies hired Mitchell, architect turned transportation planner; Martin Meyerson, who came out of Penn and the University of Chicago; Herbert Gans, a city planning doctoral student (Penn’s first); C. Britton Harris and Jack Dyckman from Chicago; William Wheaton from Princeton and Harvard; and a young Paul Davidoff from Yale Law School. They were high-powered people, some, like Wheaton, were influential in Washington and were rainmakers for the school.
Universities use programs to fund activities temporarily while they are of interest. The Graduate School of Fine Arts’ Institute for Urban Studies was one of Penn’s first, but more followed as other departments tapped federal urban-related money. The presence of its young researchers was one of the reasons Robert Scott Brown and I found Penn to be the most exciting intellectual atmosphere we’d been in on three continents. People at Penn were thinking about the things we were thinking about, and thrilled to have us. But this was not so among the architects.
Architect planners like David Crane, our student advisor, had the same straddling problems I had. Whereas in London, architects approached urban planning because it was the going game, in America, you went there when you found you were not good at design. So I was seen as a non-designer in Penn architecture and was not invited to participate as I had been in England. But the American architectural elite had not yet caught up with Team Ten and the New Brutalism. Lou of course knew them and I introduced them to Bob and my students. By that time Robert was dead, people here had rallied to help me, I had formed lifelong friendships, and in 1960 I had begun teaching in the planning department.
In 1961, I started teaching the fall semester theories course for architects and was given a joint appointment in architecture and in planning. This meant I was the only full-time person teaching in architecture. The architects spent three afternoons a week in the school, whereas I was there day and night. To connect the studio and the theories course, I gave studio crits at night, so I had good ties with beginning architecture students, and very good ties with planning students by teaching studio and kibitzing in their theory course taught by Paul Davidoff. So, I saw things that few faculty, and none in architecture, saw, especially around the turmoil going on in social planning. It was 1961—an enlivening time in American cities and at Penn. But the architects didn’t notice.
What was the turmoil about?
There was social unrest in cities related to injustice and particularly to urban renewal, seen as “human removal.” And when the social planners erupted at Penn, architects asked, “Who are these people horning in on our field? We were doing very nicely without them.” They said, “don’t fix what ain’t broke.” So eventually all the planners left Penn, as well as many architects who were not Harvard-trained modernists. This was because research money dried up with Nixon and Reagan, but also because our dean, great in many respects, saw Harvard as the shining model for architectural education. So nonconformists were not reappointed, and beyond the social planners, Crane and I left and Bob too, and Penn lost the opportunity to be the first school to build on the early links then forming, over our somewhat mangled bodies, between the social and the physical in architecture.
Where did you go next?
Bill Wheaton invited me to be a visiting professor at Berkeley, so I taught there during the Foul Speech movement, one semester after the Free Speech movement, at Berkeley. Then I went on to start a school of architecture at UCLA. I was one of three founding faculty members there, and I taught studio as I had learned from Dave Crane’s planning studios. This was the model for the Learning From Las Vegas studio, and is the reason why every school of architecture now has one teamwork, urban project studio with a visit somewhere. Sadly they’re often junkets, not real research.
This model of teaching comes out of planning?
Yes but it needed adapting for architects and very careful putting together. Dave Crane pushed me at Penn to study regional science, an economic discipline, nicknamed “city physics.” It helped me greatly in connecting form and forces with architects. But at UCLA I taught urban design and brought in experts from various fields. The principal was George Dudley, who I had worked with in New York, and Henry Lu, Peter Kamnitzer, and I were faculty.
I ran the first studio and set the model for interdisciplinary teaching via studio. “Determinants of urban form,” my subject, investigated the forces that make form, and how to design with them. In team studios everyone shared information collected for the project with everyone else and we all shared the project. In that way everyone saw how the whole thing was put together.
As architects descend for the 2016 AIA National Convention, the City of Brotherly Love will be in the spotlight. Philadelphia was just named a World Heritage City, the first in the United States. Denise Scott Brown (see our interview with her here) and Robert Venturi will be awarded the AIA Gold Medal during the convention and a new mayor is fighting to preserve the city’s landmarks, which include the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia City Hall, and a host of modern and postmodern relics—not to mention the urban fabric that composes the neighborhoods. In light of all that is happening, AN dove head first into Philadelphian architecture, both past and present. (Also, our "reader" of past articles can help you get up to speed on Philly, the AIA, and this year's speakers.)
This year Philadelphia—home of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and Rittenhouse Square—can boast of another historic attribute: It is the first and only city in the United States to be named a World Heritage City, one of 266 around the globe.
Civic leaders, who received word of the recognition last fall, note with pride that it gives Philadelphia a distinction that big-city rivals such as New York and Boston can’t claim. They hope it will make residents more aware of the city’s historic assets and help draw more tourists .
However, a letdown is that the World Heritage City designation doesn’t offer Philadelphia any money to protect or promote historic buildings. It comes from a Canadian group, the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC), not the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and it provides no funds for preservation.
Some fear the designation could lull people into a false sense of security about local preservation activity. “There’s been a tremendous amount of confusion,” said architect Kathy Dowdell, principal of Farragut Street Architects. “It’s essentially a marketing campaign. It doesn’t actually protect anything. But if it gets people to think about the need to protect [historic buildings], I don’t care if it is a marketing campaign.”
Despite its recent designation as a World Heritage City, Philadelphia has had a decidedly uneven record and reputation for historic preservation. Architects who come to the AIA convention will find Center City relatively intact. But other areas of the city are losing historically and architecturally significant buildings at a steady rate, largely due to development pressures and lack of landmark protection.
This spring, many residents are smarting from the recent loss of the main auditorium of the Boyd Theater, the city’s last movie palace, and the former Union Baptist Church, where Marian Anderson learned to sing. Compared to its peers, local preservationists say, Philadelphia is doing a poor job of safeguarding its historic assets. More than a few describe the preservation scene as being in a state of crisis.
“There is a real culture of despair, or resignation, when it comes to preservation in this town,” said Aaron Wunsch, assistant professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate program of historic preservation, in an interview with PlanPhilly, a website that monitors preservation activity in Philadelphia. “It’s not that people don’t care; it’s either that they assume that the system is working, or have given up on it ever doing so.”
Lack of imagination is one of the city’s problems, Wunsch said.
“Philadelphia has become a real can’t-do kind of place, unwilling or unable to think creatively about preservation and adaptive reuse. We have the architectural resources of a Colonial Williamsburg for the 18th century, and far better than Manhattan for the 19th. But we continue to think like Detroit, treating every development proposal, no matter how shoddy, as our city’s last hope.”
“My feeling is that there are two different stories here,” said Nathaniel Popkin, writer, critic, and editorial director for Hidden City Philadelphia, another organization that pays close attention to preservation in Philadelphia.
“Some people will tell you that there is a crisis. There is certainly a feeling that the regulatory process is not working…On the other hand, there is an enormous amount of preservation work happening —high quality preservation work and high quality adaptive reuse work—and there is opportunity for much more.“
Philadelphia seems to regard preservation differently than other cities do, observes Inga Saffron, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic.
“In most cities, historic designation means a building is protected—forever,” she wrote after the city’s historic commission approved a proposal to tear down the Boyd auditorium. “In Philadelphia, designation is increasingly seen as a temporary state, good until a developer offers a compelling alternative.”
Despite the recent losses and threats to the city’s historic fabric, no one has given up hope. New Mayor James Kenney took office in January, and preservationists are optimistic that he and his administration will put preservation on a better course. They note that Kenney once worked for a local architectural firm that specializes in preservation, Vitetta, and that as a city council member he introduced legislation that would have added landmarks to the Philadelphia register and doubled funding for the historic commission. The legislation never passed, in part because Kenney left the council before it could advance. But it underscored his passion for preservation.
As the new mayor settles in, Philadelphia’s preservation scene is a study in contrasts. On the plus side, Philadelphia has one of the richest collections of historic buildings in the country and a sophisticated citizenry that understands the importance of preservation. The Philadelphia Historical Commission was formed in 1955, making it one of the country’s preservation pioneers. Philadelphia has excellent architecture and preservation schools, first-rate architects and builders; strong philanthropic organizations, and a longtime preservation advocacy group, the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.
But the city faces an uphill battle in protecting its assets for a variety of reasons. The historic commission has one of the lowest budgets of any big city preservation agency in the country—less than $500,000 a year. With the limited budget, commission staffers devote much of their time to processing building permit applications rather than preparing reports recommending new landmark designations. Only about two percent of the city’s buildings have any sort of local landmark protection.
Designated landmarks aren’t necessarily safe from the wrecking ball either. Over the years, the historic commission has approved a number of requests to demolish buildings after owners argued it would be a financial hardship to maintain them. The city has few tax incentives for preservation.
Much of the problem, said Popkin, can be traced to the city’s loss of manufacturing jobs in recent decades and its subsequent budget woes. In addition, Popkin said, Philadelphia never had the sort of overheated real estate market New York City has. As a result, he said, the historic commission has been perennially understaffed, underfunded, and ill equipped to cope with the sort of development pressures it’s facing now.
In awakening from its real estate doldrums and embracing urban revitalization, the city sometimes acts as if it never learned the lessons of the past 50 years about preservation and urbanism, Wunsch said. “It’s almost as if Jane Jacobs never existed.”
The city’s lead public official in charge of preservation efforts, Historical Commission executive director Jonathan Farnham, offered no comment for this article. In other interviews, Farnham has defended his commission, saying he thinks it does well given its budget and staff size. He disagrees with those who complain that the commission isn’t recommending enough buildings for landmark status. He denies that it sides with developers too frequently.
How can the situation be improved? In an op-ed for the Inquirer, Wunsch and Preservation Alliance executive director Caroline Boyce urged the city to increase funding for the historic commission; undertake a comprehensive survey of Philadelphia’s historic resources, and provide tax incentives for preservation, among other suggestions.
Another key to any turnaround would be for elected officials to demonstrate the political will to make preservation a higher civic priority, and that’s where Mayor Kenney comes in.
Carl Dress, principal of Heritage Design Collaborative of Media and chairman of AIA Philadelphia’s Historical Preservation Committee, said he’s encouraged that Kenney wants to rehab and reopen older libraries and recreation centers. In addition, he said, the city is moving its police headquarters from one older building, the Roundhouse by GBQC, to the former Provident Mutual Life Insurance building in West Philadelphia. It also hired Kieran Timberlake to refurbish the “Saucer” welcome center at LOVE Park.
“There are great hopes that he will help take preservation in the right direction,” Dress said of Kenney. During last year’s campaign for mayor, “Kenney was the first person to talk positively about preservation in as long as anyone can remember,” Popkin said. “He understands it. He gets it…Hopes are very high.”