Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Significant Ten of 2006

Unlike reviewers who follow movies, books, restaurants and music, architecture critics hardly ever bother to do the ritual 'Best of the Year' list. Probably that's because architecture moves too slowly. Nothing gets built in a year. The important changes in architecture and city planning only become evident over time. That said, I thought I'd try my hand at a list. Don't call it the Ten Best. How about the Ten Potentially Significant Developments of 2006?

1.CASINOS: Will anything change the look, feel and livability of Philadelphia more than the two sprawling casino boxes and their gargantuan garages that were just approved for the Delaware riverfront, three miles apart from one another? Foxwoods and Sugarhouse (above) will anchor a waterfront where the water is the last thing that matters. Watch out for those new highway interchanges!

2.PLANNING RULES: Although it's clear that Mayor Street is operating largely in legacy mode, his ninth-inning decision to authorize a waterfront planning study ( by Penn Praxis) and to name a serious planner (Janice Woodcock) to lead the city planning staff, suggests that the city's pols feel they can't just blithely green-light every developer who makes a campaign contribution. But the fact that they feel the need to pay lip service to planning is important. Next, we hope that taxpayers will come to expect intelligent planning as their due - like trash collection and snow removal.

3.BUILD IT HIGH. BUILD IT WELL: No doubt about it, this was the year of the skyscraper, not just in Philadelphia, but around the world. Not only were a couple dozen, 40-story plus skyscrapers proposed for Philly, a few may actually take their place on the skyline: Comcast Center, the Murano, Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, Waterfront Square, Symphony House, and (we're pretty sure) 10 Rittenhouse. Others, like the Barnes tower, 1706 Rittenhouse, Mandeville Place, Bridgman's View, Trump, the Americana (Yaron), Grasso's 17th street tower, NewMarket, Locust Club, Dilworth House, and Hoboken Brownstone's pair remain just gleams in their developer's eyes. A few, like Marina View, have been officially declared DOA. Overall, the high-rises are good for Philadelphia because they make it a denser, more lively place. Still, we yearn for a tower that isn't just filling, but looks GRRREAT. By the way, trivia buffs, a free year-long subscription to Skyline Online if you identify the song that inspired the headline on this item. A second year free if you can name the songwriter. (Hint: "Now that tower's empty...")

4.PHILLY GETS COOL: Okay, officially, it was late 2005 when National Geographic Traveler named Philadelphia as the Next Great Place, but it seems to me that this town's cool factor just keeps growing. You know you're kickin' when you do things the way you always did them, but suddenly everyone is gushing about it. Philadelphia reached that moment, I think, when the Philadelphia Art Museun picked Frank Gehry to design its new galleries - underground. I realized there had been a sea-change when I was leading a couple of Metropolis editors up Second Street in Northern Liberties and they began to sob, "This is how New York used to be!" Note the "used to be." A city can become too cool. For that, see Adam Gopnik's lead editorial in this week's New Yorker on the subject of Gothamitis. You don't know what you've got till it's gone.

5. SKIRKANICH HALL: Yes, Philadelphia can build small, beautiful works of architecture. We just can't give them names we can spell easily. Penn Engineering School Dean Eduardo Glandt continued his run of commissioning sublime work from top architects when he picked Tod Williams and Billie Tsien for the school's new tower on 33rd Street (right). Now we hear he has his eye on a nice piece of property on the 3200 block of Walnut Street .

6. HEADQUARTERS CITY: The Robert A. M. Stern skyscraper that will serve as Comcast's new headquarters is getting all the attention, but I predict the true design landmark will be Urban Outfitters new headquarters in the World War II-vintage Crystal Palace at the Navy Yard, designed and outfitted by Jeffrey Scherer of MS&R in Minneapolis in a nouveau vintage style. Now that Steve Poses, the Frog man himself, is running a public cafeteria there among the mothballed warships, you can go see for yourself.

7. PHILLY MODERN: This was a year when a few intrepid developers dropped their bricks and embraced contemporary design. With the completion of Skirkanich Hall and Erdy McHenry's Hancock Square and Avenue North, it's starting to feel as if Philadelphia can be a player in modern architectural life. Factor in Interface Studio's winning entry in this year's AIA awards and you might even call modern a trend.

8. DEATH OF THE DEPARTMENT STORE: With the closing of Strawbridge's on Market Street, another home-grown department store went to shopping heaven. Macy's moved, hermit-crab-like, into the shell of Wanamakers, but it still doesn't feel like Philly there yet.

9. SEEING GREEN: Another sign that Philly is slouching its way into the modern world was the Plumbers Union's brave new stand on waterless urinals after a long pissing match with Liberty Property Trust, developer of the environmentally friendly Comcast Center. The Philadelphia Water Department, which has long been the city's most progressive agency, also did the environment a service this year by introducing new regs requiring all big developments to complete stormwater management plans.

10. MAKE NEW FRIENDS, BUT KEEP THE OLD: Yes, it's thrilling to see ambitious new architecture in Philadelphia, but it's also nice to come home to 30th Street Station - not Ben Station.


Anonymous box said...

Nice review Inga. The new Urban Outfitters HQ sounds great but I would have preferred them to renovate a building in center city that was in need of some TLC.

Navy Yard would b eperfect to lure companies outside the city but I just don't get why they are luring companies out of center city.

8:28 PM  
Blogger rasphila said...

Interesting review of the year, and pretty much on target. The death of the department store in Center City seems particularly sad, but is balanced by the other promising developments there. And the environmentally-friendly buildings are very encouraging.

I wouldn't sell the Navy Yard's potential too short. It's a short transit ride away from Center City and could become a kind of functional extension of the downtown. For that to happen, the transit needs to be modernized, but this is true of transit all over the city. One development that didn't happen, unfortunately, was dedicated funding and capital improvements for SEPTA. We need a much better transit system. The alternative is the kind of nightmare traffic scenarios that may well happen when the two casinos are in place. And, of course, nightmare traffic is also an environmental nightmare.

8:48 PM  
Blogger jordon said...

i agree, rasphila. how's about pick up the ridge spur and point towards the navy yard! (would that it were that simple.)

9:22 PM  
Blogger normajean said...

Great list - it emphasizes that so many factors affect the built environment. I agree with rasphila that transit is especially important to what, how, where buildings are constructed. I would also add that economics play a major role, e.g. mortgage rates, job strength, salary ranges, etc. The downturn of many markets this year will also affect what gets built in Philadelphia in the future.

I can't wait to see some of the buildings first hand, especially the Frog at the Yard!

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The current New Yorker magazine has a great article about NYC and touches upon fabric of NYC, city planning, good government, etc. Check it out.

12:32 PM  
Blogger ACM said...

surely you jest about Skirkanich?! from the street, at least, that thing's a chunk of ugly, especially due to its unfortunate sewage-green/brown brick... eeww.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Number 2 is 'serious planner' Janice Woodcock? Tell us more. Is it true she makes no little plans?

2:50 PM  
Blogger Patrick D.Hazard said...

If I were awarding a Piquant Prose of the Year Award, it would surely go to you for the Plumbers Union's pissing match over waterless urinals! The biggest architectural news here in Weimar, Germany is the retrieval of a Van der Velde villa (it has been cursed by forty years use by the Stasi) by two young Munich architects who are dividing it into six apartments.As for design, Daniel Patrick (Moynihan) Hazard took that on December 8th, hands down. I had forgotten the glory of tiny hands.As Whitman said, "The hinge of the human hand puts to scorn all machinery."

1:40 AM  

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