Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Penn Mutual Tower Gets Condo Companion

The tenants in the Penn Mutual Tower won't be happy, but finally something may be built on the grassy lot next door. The Zoning Board has approved a 26-story condo tower designed by Cecil Baker & Associates for developer Gagan Lakhma of CREI.

The sensitively designed building starts on a low base faced in glass, then sets back after five stories to form a slim tower. Despite the modest size of the lot, the developer and architect worked hard to put all the parking underground and to include 24,000 sf of retail on the first and second floors. Both the tower and base have had their northeast corners shaved off to appease the National Park Service, which is obsessed with insuring that no modern buildings block out the sky when viewed from the Liberty Bell Center. The concession works to the tower's advantage, though. It enables the design to break from the standard slab shape and create an interesting corner entrance on the ground floor. Another nice thing is that the condo tower will be the same height as Penn Mutual, creating a sense of coherence on the block.

Penn Mutual's tenants were not as easily appeased as the park service, however, even though the tower design is fairly deferential to the Mitchell/Giurgola's 1970 office building, which is famous for giving us the world's first facadectomy. The tenants are upset because they will lose the views from their upper windows. (There are no windows below the sixth floor.) They're talking lawsuit, right now, which is a shame. While it's true that the views will disappear, the architect and developer were considerate enough to let them have light. So, while the bottom five floors fill the whole site and come to Penn Mutual's party wall, the tower does not. There will be a 25-foot gap between the condo tower and the Penn Mutual building, enough to bring some daylight into the offices.

Clearly, it's no fun to lose your views, especially if you signed a lease based on having them. But Philadelphians need to keep in mind that this is a big city and the skyline is always in flux. While there are zoning rules - and occasionally they get enforced - there is no law guaranteeing thats views remain unchanged forever. The only people who get to keep their views are the sorts who will be able to afford units in this new condo tower, which overlooks a boring grassy block owned by the park service and unavailable for development. The rest of us will have to be content a with a building that brings new residents (84 units) and new shops to this less-than-exciting stretch of Walnut Street. One possible retail tenant is the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which is considering moving its store and offices to the building. The date of ground-breaking hangs on whether the lawsuits go ahead.


Blogger mark said...

Thats a very nice design and I hope it gets built, but with all the empty lots available in center city why does developer after developer continue to press the issue in this city.

Pick a lot and build where the nimby's, neighboring business, or dueling developers won't have a hemmorhage and a pending lawsuit. This looks like another project that will be dragged through the courts for the next 5 years.

If Gagan Lakham wanted to put his stamp on this city, he would buy the 8th + Market parking lot off of these slackers- Kenneth Goldenberg and PREI- and attempt to turn that cursed piece of property into something Philadelphia can be proud of.

The struggle of progress that this city puts itself through is unreal.

5:52 PM  
Anonymous SJ said...

this developer never breaks ground on anything. I would like to see this get built, but all they do is propose and advertise. Even without the lawsuits I wouldnt expect to see any action on this project

7:32 PM  
Blogger amusing said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Brandon Silverman said...

i walk by this site everyday and would love to see it get built, especially for the retail. with all of the foot traffic around the constitution hall, it would be great to spruce up the retail and restaurant presence on that block of walnut.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

It seems that every time something nice is proposed in this city, whether it's a building or some other cultural-type thing, it gets nimby'd. Even with the Comcast Center - it has the chance to be the tallest "green" building and the plumbers union tries to destroy that. Why is that?

That kind of irks me. You get a nice building like this whose developers go out of their way to try to appease everyone in some way and they might get slapped with a lawsuit. How's that for Negladelphians?

12:26 PM  
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10:54 PM  

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