Philadelphia's landscape architecture firm andropogon is redesigning a one mile segment of publicly owned, underused riverbank along the Schuylkill between Grays Ferry Avenue and 58th Street. Industrial development and highway construction has separated residents from the western bank of the riverfront for decades. Andropogon's design goals for Bartram's Mile include integrating the site with existing trails and bike infrastructure, managing stormwater, connecting the riverbank to its urban surroundings, and a design that highlights Bartram’s Garden, the oldest botanic garden in the United States. PlanPhilly's Green2015 plan cites Bartram's Mile as "a major opportunity to convert publicly owned vacant land to public green space before 2015." The project, spearheaded by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC), and the John Bartram Association (JBA), has been in the works since 2012. While the Green2015 deadline will pass before the greenway is built, stakeholders anticipate the project will be complete by 2016. Right now, Bartram's Mile is in its concept and visioning phase. Stakeholders envision bike paths, quiet spaces for tai chi, and landscaping that encourages interaction with the water. When complete, the park will provide another crucial link in the region's trail network that includes the Schuylkill River Trail, and the planned 750 mile Circuit hike and bike trail network (300 of those miles exist today).
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For many homeowners and landlords, big ticket repairs can leave gaping holes in the budget. For many low income homeowners, mending a leaky roof or weatherizing an older home can be prohibitively expensive. Vital repairs go unmade, damaging the structure and exposing residents to mold and weather extremes. Responding to this challenge, the Design Advocacy Group, a coalition of planners, architects, and activists, founded the Healthy Rowhouse Project (HRP) in 2014. HRP is a nonprofit organization that helps Philadelphia's low income homeowners and renters maintain their properties. The project's goal is to spend up to $5o million each year to weatherize and de-mold 5,000 homes, at a cost of $10,ooo per home. The project will be supported and funded through grants from the Oak Foundation, an anti-homelessness organization based in Geneva. In Philadelphia, 38 percent of homeowners have an annual income of less than $35,000. Often, residents choose between living in a deteriorating structure, or abandoning the property and moving elsewhere. Experts estimate that a vacant home can bring down the value of adjacent properties by as much as $8,000. Philadelphia has an astonishing 40,000 vacant houses. The Design Advocacy Group initially approached homeowners in Mantua, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, about how they could benefit from the area's gentrification. Overwhelmingly, residents requested financial and technical assistance to maintain their homes. Philadelphia spends between $9 million and $13 million per year on community development block grants that go to low-income homeowners. Demand outstrips supply: applicants face a four year long wait list. What about building new housing? Traditionally, that is the role of the Community Development Corporation (CDC). HRP leader and fair housing advocate Karen Black noted in the Philadelphia Citizen that a typical CDC can only build around 30 units per year. The HRP, Black emphasized, is not building new housing, it is helping residents stay in their current homes. To realize this goal, HRP is creating an a la carte menu of repair options—deferred home equity loans, block grants, or, for renters, landlord assistance—that help residents access money to pay local contractors for repairs. The plan could work without buy-in from the city, but the project would really fly with the Mayor's and City Council's support.
Philadelphia’s Bergmann Associates reveal plans for Grays Ferry Triangle pedestrian plaza on South Street
Philadelphia's South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA) Grays Ferry Avenue Triangles Committee is making moves on a new plaza at 23rd Street at South Street. This plaza follows the well-trod path of its predecessors, touting amenities like seating and trees, as well as building South Philly's neighborhood identity and civic pride. The Grays Ferry Triangle Project, presented at DesignPhiladelphia this month, will convert the area into a pedestrian plaza with cafe seating, a bike docking station, and benches made of local Wissahickon schist. Concentric cobblestone circles will help manage stormwater runoff. Philadelphia's Bergman Associates drafted the plaza design. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPWJRNk1SRA A major feature of this plaza is a seven-foot-wide drinking fountain. Erected by the Women’s Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1901, the fountain provided free drinking water for horses on the top tier and dogs on the lower level. Grays Ferry Avenue Triangles Committee stipulated that in the design there be enough room to sit "campfire style" around the fountain. SOSNA will use the design to solicit funding to implement the project. Consequently, there is no construction timeline in place at this time.
A local Philadelphia artist has been commissioned to re-interpret a Baroque painting of the Virgin Mary, commonly known as "Mary The Untier Of Knots." The piece that was originally painted by Georg Melchior Schmidtner in the 1700s is apparently among Pope Francis' favorite works of art. The Pope is heading into Philly on September 26 before the Festival of Families celebration. His tour will start at Eakins Oval, and then head down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, around City Hall and then travel back up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway before ending at the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "People have expressed a desire for inclusivity of all so that none are marginalized," artist Meg Saligman told NPR in an interview. "And it's also issues of homelessness and hunger, struggle, issues of race and immigration." Saligman's process involved asking people to write about a personal struggle on a white plastic ribbon when she visited churches, congregations, homeless shelters, public spaces, even using the internet. The work will sit outside the Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul in downtown Philadelphia, where Pope Francis will deliver mass later this month. "The idea is to have every inch of the dome covered with these messages to get people to share their experiences," said Saligman. The Bishop of Rome appears to be a fan of alternative artistic representations of religious works. Earlier this year he took a hermeneutic approach to a communist crucifix, taking the gift from Bolivia with him back home.
Groundbreaking on the Divine Lorraine, Philadelphia's luxury hotel turned graffiti artist playground, begins this afternoon. Completed in 1894, Willis G. Hale's 10 story Lorraine Apartments featured state-of-the-art technology (electric lights), and bourgeois amenities (a kitchen staff that cooked for the tenants, eliminating the need for household servants). At the beginning of the 20th century, the apartments were converted into a hotel. The Reverend Jealous Divine bought the structure in 1948, and opened the country's first integrated hotel. Abandoned in 1999, the structure steadily decayed, battered by urban explorers, graffiti artists, and sixteen Philadelphia winters. Last year, The Architect's Newspaper explored the property from the ground up with developer Eric Blumenfeld. Blumenfeld plans to turn the $44 million property into a hotel. If the hotel's capsule collection on Instagram is any indication, the Divine Lorraine should receive an extensive aesthetic makeover from the redevelopment team. Philadelphia firm Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) is spearheading the renovation.
After just under two years at the helm, Philadelphia Center for Architecture director Hilary Jay has stepped down. The Center said in a statement that the departure was “mutual and amicable.” But after the recent abrupt, mysterious resignation of Rick Bell from AIA New York for undisclosed reasons, we are left wondering what really is going on behind the scenes. Jay’s legacy is the Design Philadelphia Festival, which she founded but will leave under direction of the Center. “I move forward knowing that the festival is in capable and creative hands with Nova Harris as DP’s program manager,” she said in a statement So the story goes…
The Vanna Venturi House in Philadelphia is for sale. That’s right, the Vanna Venturi House. Robert Venturi’s 3 bed, 2 bath, 1,986-square-foot work of seminal Postmodern architecture can be yours for only $1,750,000. Located in a quiet Philadelphia neighborhood, the house is for sale for the first time in 43 years. The house was built in 1965 and is best known as “Mother’s House,” Robert Venturi’s manifesto that exemplified many of his concepts outlined in Complexity and Contradiction. Many consider it the first self-consciously Postmodern building in the world. The subtle changes in composition and the juxtaposition of classical forms and contemporary language are classic, playful Venturi. Take a look around the interior in AN's tour of the house from 2011. Inside, original Carerra marble floors remain in the entryway, while an oversized fireplace warms the living room, which also features built-in bookcases and a Venturian chair rail. Skylights and shifting volumes give the rooms plenty of light and shadow. The house is located in Chestnut Hill and has been featured on a 2005 postage stamp. The house is also in the school district of Jenks Elementary, which is an ironic and double-coded bonus.
Bjarke Ingels and James Corner give Philadelphia’s 214-year-old Navy Yard a boost into the 21st century
Bjarke Ingels is giving Philadelphia's antique Navy Yard a jolt into the 21st century. BIG teamed up with James Corner Field Operations to bring a $35 million office building, called 1200 Intrepid, featuring double curves designed to mirror the contours of Corner's surrounding landscape. "Our design for 1200 Intrepid has been shaped by the encounter between Robert Stern’s urban master plan of rectangular city blocks and James Corner’s iconic circular park,” Ingels said in a statement. “The ‘shock wave’ of the public space spreads like rings in the water invading the footprint of our building to create a generous urban canopy at the entrance.” The 94,000-square-foot, four-story structure just broke ground in the Navy Yard. It stands adjacent to the Central Green, a park that boasts circular plots occupied by a variety of trees and plants, pedestrian pathways, and a hammock grove. In addition, it offers a fitness station, a table tennis area, and a running track that 1200 Intrepid's design responds to. The park and building are part of Pennsylvania’s plan to transform this segment of South Philly from an industrialized business campus to a multi-functional industrial space that will accommodate 11,000 employees working for companies ranging from the pharmaceutical industry to Urban Outfitters. The plan to revitalize the Naval Yard began in 2004 when the state commissioned Michael van Valkenburgh Associates, Robert A.M. Stern, and numerous experts to create a master plan that “includes environmentally friendly workplaces, notable architecture, industrial development, great public spaces, waterfront amenities, improved mass transit, and residential development,” according to the Navy Yard website. Ingels’ building will help reach the Yard’s estimated goal of supporting up to $3 billion in private investments, 13.5 million square feet of development, and 30,000 people. Although 1200 Intrepid has yet to secure tenants, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal, it is set to open its doors in 2016. The project is being developed by Pennsylvania-based Liberty Property Trust and Synterra Partners.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) plans to undertake its most ambitious urban renewal project to date. Through eminent domain, the agency would seize about 1,300 properties and entirely remake the Sharswood neighborhood which has been plagued with vacancy, blight, crime, and poverty. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that most of these properties are city-owned, tax-delinquent, or empty. This massive acquisition would include demolishing two of the Blumberg Towers, a 1960s-era public housing development in the neighborhood. In its place would come 1,203 new homes and apartments, most of which would be designated as affordable. The development—well, the new neighborhood really—would also incorporate a new headquarters for the PHA, a supermarket, a renovated school, new recreation centers and open spaces, and a mix of independently-owned shops and chain stores. The Philadelphia Daily News reported that city officials will move the 363 families currently living in the Blumberg Towers to other PHA properties. Those living or working inside one of the 73 occupied buildings on the agency's demolition list "will get fair-market value for their properties and relocation assistance." Despite concerns about the scale of the redevelopment, and worries about the PHA's ability to handle such a significant mixed-use project, a City Council rules committee recently gave preliminary approval to the PHA's plan. PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah says the project will take 10 years to complete, but that the agency hopes to get going on it this year or next.
Earlier this year, AN kicked off its video series with a tour of Philly's Reading Viaduct, an abandoned elevated rail line that advocates hope to transform into a linear park. The project has been talked about for years, but the pace has really picked up over the last few months. When we visited the site, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Rail Park, Leah Murphy, and the park's designer, Bryan Hanes, said they hoped to break ground on the first phase of the project—the spur—this year. Now, it looks like that is going to happen—possibly as soon as this summer. In March, the Knight and William Penn foundations announced they would provide $11 million for five shovel-ready park projects around the city, including $1 million for the Reading Viaduct. Since then, the chances of the project getting underway have solidified even further. PlanPhilly recently reported that Councilman Mark Squilla introduced legislation that would allow the city to purchase the 0.8-acre spur from Philly's transit agency, SEPTA, which currently owns the site. If SEPTA votes to hand over the property, the project will pass a major logistical hurdle. As for funding, Friends of the Rail Park told PlanPhilly that the group has already raised about 65 percent of the $9 million required for the spur. It is also pursuing a $3.5 million grant from Pennsylvania's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. For more on the history of the Reading Viaduct, and its possible future as an elevated park, check out our video below. https://vimeo.com/120168095
Philadelphia has become the latest American city to offer a bikeshare system with the introduction of Indego. On Thursday, Mayor Nutter celebrated the long-awaited launch by pedaling around town on one of the system's first 600 bikes. The program will expand significantly over the next two years. https://vimeo.com/125880262 The city is taking advantage of its conspicuously late entrance into bikeshare by offering the most up-to-date equipment and pricing schemes that should make the system more accessible to more people. StreetsBlog was there for the launch and filed a video from Philly's streets about what the light-blue bikes mean for the city. Take a look above.
The infamous "Rocky" steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art will soon be revamped with a new 72-foot escalator beginning in spring 2016. The climb to the museum, which was most notably featured in the iconic movie scene with Sly Stallone, is being transformed to enhance accessibility in time for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next July. And more importantly, this overhaul will be completed in preparation for the next Rocky sequel, ensuring that the action hero, at the ripe age of 68, with his creaky knees, can gracefully scale the stairs once again. In a statement about the visionary project, VISIT PHILADELPHIA's president & CEO, Meryl Levitz, said, “It’s entirely fake. April Fools’!" While the steps will remain intact, change is underway with Frank Gehry's plan to expand the museum's gallery space under the West Terrace, which does sits atop the famous staircase.