Thursday, February 22, 2007

Don't Call It The Barnes Tower

Sometimes good things happen for the wrong reasons. Take the Tower Formerly Known as Barnes, at 21st and Hamilton Streets, planned for the current site of the Best Western Motel. The original, clocked in at 500 feet. Even though it stuck up like giant obelisk in the middle of the nearly block-size site, and was a seriously anti-urban building, it was all legal under the city's zoning code.
That didn't stop Vince Fumo and Spring Garden neighbors from protesting - or Lord Auspitz of the Zoning Board from throwing out the building permit. The developers, Dalia Shuster and Daniel Katz, were forced to negotiate a compromise.
The process was scarily undemocratic and arbitrary, yet there is no doubt that the new version - by architect Steven J. Brittan of Burt Hill Kosar - is much, much better - and not just because the height of main tower is down to 406 feet/ 37 stories. The real reason it's better is because the site is now being treated like a part of the city grid. As you see in the rendering above, the new version calls for street-wall buildings on three sides of the site. Instead of occupying just 20 percent of the land, buildings will cover about 50 percent.
On the lower right, you should be able to make out a white rectangle that will be a seven-story loft-style condo building with space for a ground-floor restaurant. It will be attached to the tower and clad in the same glass-and-metal materials. The plan calls for a green roof - not out a commitment to the environment, but so residents of the nearby towers won't have to look at an ugly sheet of tar paper.
Moving up to Spring Garden Street, in the top left corner of the block, you should be able to make a red rectangle. Brittan is proposing brick townhouse condos that will mimic the scale and materials of Spring Garden Street's grand houses. Depending on whether they are built as full houses or duplexes, there will be 6 to 12 units hugging the corner of 21st Street.
Just below the main tower, also on the left, is a second, smaller tower that would be 187 feet tall (16 stories), although the neighbors are still discussing the details. In any case, the developers have scheduled that tower for some far-off second phase, so we won't see it until long after everything else is built. It's not clear whether there will be room for retail, but there should be. Can you believe that the neighbors scotched the developers' plan for retail in the 22nd Street corner of the townhouse units, even though there is currently retail on the three other corners of the Spring Garden intersection?
As to the tower itseelf, it remains in the same spot, with its front facade running parallel with the diagonal of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It may be 100 feet shorter than before, but it will still be bigger than the neighboring Buttonwood and Parkway House buildings. But the peaks and valleys of the local skyline cluster will be less extreme. The project's main building is still set too far from the street, because of the 200-foot setback required of all parkway towers, and still has a big curving driveway. The footprint will now be 11,000 square feet. It won't be a skinny, tower, but it won't be one of those wide, JFK- Boulevard blockbusters either. Fortunately, the garage didn't grow in size, and is still buried in the natural hillside. Entrances and exits are from 21st and 22nd Streets.
It's the little seven-story condo building at 21st and Hamilton that really elevates this project. Not only is the design smart and crisp, it will do wonders for that cluttered corner. The white-tablecloth restaurant will finally provide a refuge for visitors to the parkway and the Rodin Museum. Other than Whole Foods, which is supposed to move to 16th and Vine one of these days., there is not a single place t eat on the parkway between 17th Street and the art museum.


Anonymous Fen Branklin said...


Just goes to show what can be accomplished when the NIMBYs, neighborhood progressives and developers actually work together towards a common goal.

What a concept...

3:15 PM  
Anonymous sbp said...

I thought that the trend in most cities was for a building to occupy as small a footpint as possible and leave as much open or green space as possible. The new version of the building descibed takes up a larger footprint -- why in this case does this make for a better plan for this piece of property. Please explain. I am not an arcitect but layperson using this blog to learn.

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This has turned out to be a great design!! Hopefully there will be even more restaurants along Spring Garden Street from 23rd to Broad. This up and comung neighborhood needs more retail too!!If the unions could only move out of their 2 story Grand looking halls. Perhaps to Broad and Girard or Fairmount Ave, more restaurants could be added. Heck, even 3-5 stories could be added to the union hall's (Condo Conversion) giving the electricians and carpenters more work.

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the status of the smallish looking condo that has been started behind the Rodin Museum?


11:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This stinks. Back door zoning, and NIMBYs in a city that does not guaranty any views or no shadows. The original design was flawed with no connection to the neighborhood; the process is the problem. Change the laws, not the process...

At least the name is changes so we wont think of Pricilla Barnes all the time....sooo threes company!

11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the Swann Lounge and the Fountain restaurant (Zagat number 1 in the city)at the Four Seasons to eat along the parkway??

3:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

to all you nay sayer, Here is a project Inga likes.

Mark it down, I don't want to hear about how she hates everything anymore.

But Inga, just one thing, "Burt Hill Kosar..." what happened to Rittleman!


Also, great that an eatery is on the parkway.

6:58 AM  
Blogger dab said...

"was a seriously anti-urban building"

How is a skyscraper "anti-urban"? Skyscrapers are the epitome of urban downtowns, of which the Ben Franklin Parkway is certainly a part of from any cursory glance at the existing buildings lining it much of the way.

"The process was scarily undemocratic and arbitrary"

How so? Should people not be allowed to build what they want on their own property? Even after people who are not owners of the property have had their opportunity to socialize control of land use through zoning and building codes?

If it is really so important to the neighbors and you what is built on this property, why didn't you guys purchase it yourselves?

Lastly, Democracy is about self-governance and having a voice in the manner in which the government is operated, not controlling the use of your neighbor's property. So its hard to see how a developer proposing to build a building on a site he owns that meets the zoning code is "undemocratic". Perhaps you could use a refresher Civics course.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shortening a building from 500' to 400' is stupid and inconsequential. Anything over 200' might just as well be 1000'. The obsession with height is typical of moronic nimby politics.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Skyscrapers are the epitome of urban downtowns"

yeah skyscarpers set back 200' from a street truly wonderful urban elements. i just love walking down the parkway and enjoying it's active streetlive.

"If it is really so important to the neighbors and you what is built on this property, why didn't you guys purchase it yourselves?"

we all don't live in Gearge W's ownership society.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

Most of the NIMBY's did not work together with anyone. During all of the hearings and community meetings, it was very clear that it was individuals with individual issues. I know I heard the words "shadows" and "garden" together more than a few times.
The good of the community was usually on the backburner.

An argument for a larger footprint is that planners wanted a continguous walk down the street without potential dead zones. See the south side of the "Youth Study Center". Or the buttonwood park, to a smaller effect.

If Franklintown wants more retail, there's going to need to be a once over on traffic patterns and parking.

That smallish looking condo mess behind the Rodin Museum, or Rodin Tower, had procured land development rights to the land but does not yet have the zoning permissions to build upwards yet, as far as I have heard. There was a rumor going about that they stored some of their equipment where they shouldn't have and got hit with an injunction as well. Whatever is going on in that useless hole within a hole, I hope the not-Barnes project will force them to relocate that trailer.

And dab, I think the verbiage "The process was scarily undemocratic and arbitrary" represented the for-the-hell-of-it yanking of the building rights previously despite them already having all the existing rules and regulations followed. So, if I am not reading it incorrectly, it seems to partially re-inforce your subsequent statement.

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


These Photo's are FAB!

Keep'em comin' INGY!

Luv Ya'

7:52 PM  
Blogger Jim C. said...

zoning laws are socialism? Please. Just because you have a lot of money doesn't mean you can do anything you want--even if it were to mean denigrating an entire neighborhood.

12:03 AM  
Anonymous B said...


Open and green space is not always good. The size and scale in relationship to the neighborhood is critical to its success. Open and green spaces need to be "owned" by the neighborhood and comunity. It's a watchful comunity (not the police) that keeps a park or open space safe. If you feel like people are watching you, you'll find someplace else to do your illegal whatevers. If the space is too large, or not defined properly, the neighborhood can't manage it. Think of the difference of Rittenhouse park and Franklin Park near the BF bridge, nobody but the homeless "own" that park. The larger the space, the more people/ foot traffic you need to have to make it "safe." It's more of an art then a science. What works in one location, may not work in another. If you want to read a great book on the topic try "Life and Death of Great American cities" by Jane Jacobs. Written a long time ago and should be required reading for every developer, public official and major of every city/town in America.

12:01 PM  

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