Monday, March 24, 2008

Skyscraper Height No Object?

When its exterior was completed last year, the 975-foot-tall Comcast Tower ended One Liberty Place's 20-year run as Philadelphia's tallest building. It seems unlikely that Comcast will be able to hold onto the city's height record for quite so long. Even as Comcast puts the finishing touches on its plaza and underground concourse, a group of developers is proposing an even taller tower - the 1,500-foot American Commerce Center. While it's a long-shot of a project - as I wrote in a story that ran Saturday - it signals that Philadelphia is entering the age of super-tall towers.

The project is being shopped around by Joseph Grasso's and Garrett Miller's Walnut Street Capital, which spent $30 million on the site. Some handicappers suspect they are in way over their heads. Unlike Liberty Property Trust and Brandywine, which are the only companies to actually build new offices in Philly in the past two decades, Walnut Street Capital has never put a shovel in the ground. Their ambitions for the American Commerce Center are very grand, considering. First there is a 1,200-foot office tower (topped by a 300-foot spire) that would include 1.3 million square feet of office space (same as Comcast). But there is also supposed be a second, 477-tall cubular donut that would house 300,000 square of retail in a five-level base and a hotel, located in the southern leg of that open rhomboid you see in the rendering. The architects, Kohn Pedersen Fox, of New York, envision three different plazas, which would host various cafes, a movie theater complex and the hotel ballrooms The dense array of activities could, theoretically, be a smaller Philly version of the shops at Time Warner's building. There's even space set aside for an upscale supermarket in the lower level, just like Time Warner's Whole Foods space.

The architects have done some clever things with the design, like hollowing out the lower structure to preserve some views for the Stirling on JFK Boulevard. The top level of the open rhomboid would have gardens and meeting rooms that can do double-duty as both a conference center for the office tenants and ballrooms for the hotel.

But it would be nice if KPF designers Eugene Kohn and William C. Louie had worked out the architecture beyond this schematic form. You would think they'd be a little embarrassed at stealing the idea for the crown from Daniel Libeskind's original pass at the Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan (see image below). And while the architects say they haven't begun to work on the details of the facade, it's disheartening to see their starting point is the same bluish glass used at Le Petite Cira and half the new office buildings in New York. KPF, which designed cool, angular One Logan Square and the far-less-cool, Post-Modernist Two Logan , as well as the Mellon Bank Center, does seem to have a good recent track record of manipulating glass curtain walls to give them depth and shadow. Of course, most of their recent clients have been in places flush with money, like Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. We haven't seen any Philly developers willing to spend money on the detailing necessary to make a glass facade more than a vertical ice rink.

My greatest concern, however, is the boxy mass of the tower. It appears to slam down hard on the ground at the corner of 19th and Arch Streets with no set backs and no grace notes. If you've walked around to the back side of the Comcast Tower, then you known how these sheer glass skyscrapers walls can easily become an urban cliff. Given that Ron Caplan, et al, are assembling land for yet another tower immediately to the west, on Arch Street between 19th and 20th, Philadelphia needs to plan now to avoid building a forbidding palisades of skyscraper walls. See my Friday column for more on that subject.

36 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why can't Philadelphia architecture model European architecture? It will not only help continue the unique quasi-Euro feel of the city, but will also provide a stark contrast to the architecture of NYC. Buildings like London's "Gherkin" and Malmo's "Turning Torso" come to mind. Also, we should be looking to Chicago for inspiration; they have some amazing, and different, buildings underway there. I say we encourage our developers to push the envelope in areas besides height!

10:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure there will be tweaks to the design, just like Comcast... Maybe Walnut knows something on tenants we don't.. This seems to be much more than a basic proposal, they seem really on top of this.

I say go for it! What? Are we going to be whiny NIMBY Bostonians here? The 3rd tallest building in the nation- in Philadelphia??? We are coming back, we are reemerging and the last thing we should do is try and stop that. I'm tired of people from other places degrading my hometown.

The design needs some work- which I am sure it will get. But I say: build, build, build!

9:59 AM  
Blogger JessB said...

Why is it that an American city's status is built on penis envy? Biggest is not always best. There are magnificent cities in the world where skyscrapers do not define "good" architecture -- cities like Paris and Berlin. In those cities, the developers have vision. The architecture is designed with sensitivity and is often incredibly humane. You know... part of the reason I moved to Philly in the first place was that it reminded me of Paris -- a vibrant place where the new buildings explore the possibilities of architecture, are on a human scale, and where at most locations throughout the city you can see large portions of sky. Why do people think it's a good idea to have these behemoths of buildings blocking the sun and creating centers of town where, after 5pm on any given evening, they are utterly deserted? We are NOT New York. We are NOT Chicago. We are PHILADELPHIA. We are the center of much of the beginning history of this country, and the way to achieve that is not to copy the paths of other major cities in this country. We need to stop aspiring to the "mine is bigger than yours" mindset, and start thinking about making INTERESTING, GROUND BREAKING architecture that makes people want to inhabit and interact with it.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BUILD IT!! PROJECT-BLOCKING is PROGRESS-BLOCKING. Potential is what people see when they propose projects like this for Center City. Why can't we have a world class city with all of the perks of Chicago, or Manhattan? We need more retail and entertainment establishments to attract folks to the city, and KEEP them there. When you go to Chicago there's more than enough on the magnificent mile alone to keep you entertained all day AND evening. Times Square, enough said. Philly needs more than Mom and Pop bars, the Hard Rock Cafe, and the horribly designed, outdated, and 'flea-market-ish' Gallery shopping area, shopping on Walnut and Chestnut which ALL closes by 7pm....????? People shouldnt have to search for retail and entertainment districts. South street is the only option for shoppers after rush hour. We have too many eye-sore parking lots, and deserted and neglected land that could go to use. Why so many pessimists in this city would rather have a ugly parking lot at 18th and Arch, or a virtual wasteland in Old City? We need to get past this ridiculous culture of fighting every development just for the sake of fighting. If our NIMBYs were in Chicago, it would look like Detroit instead. Cities like Atlanta, and Seattle now rival New York City and Chicago in attractiveness. Philly has decades of catching up to do. Let's come out of the developmental dark-ages for good.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm shocked the Comcast building got off the ground in this town. Philly has everything, yet we're always last when it comes to big city innovations such as this. Look at Penns Landing. After 20/30 years, nobody has made a real move. Casinos don't count. Philly has that quasi-Euro feel, true. But if we're going to be this next great city as I hear being thrown around all the time, then we gotta' get out of the dark ages way of doing business and politics in this town and begin to move toward more sleek architecture and develop more and more.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are NOT New York. We are NOT Chicago. We are PHILADELPHIA.

I couldn't agree more, I think the problem is that we are having difficulty DEFINING ourselves... At the end of the day, and perhaps I am biased, there is no better place to live and grow and work towards a common good. And a tower such as this represents something- it represents hope, growth, investment!

I too love the human scale of the city, looking into the sky and seeing blue. But, I also love traversing the streets of the Italian Market and Bella Vista with an amazing skyline in one direction as a backdrop to our city. It's comforting to see the giants, especially when they are lit up green for the Birds or red white and blue in July. Market West/ Center City is the perfect area/ zone for these buildings and so what if they are vacant at night- you are talking about every American downtown, you are talking about La Defense, you are talking about the City of London which is nothing but banks and offices. Its just the way it is!!

I hope our mayor leads us to the future we are hoping and praying for- Walnut and Chestnut should be OUR Newbury Street (Boston), OUR Walnut St. (Pittsburgh), etc. The growth of landmarks, the building of a sense of PLACE, we can do this- we don't need developers, we don't need planners- we need businesses big and small to step up, we need leadership, we need bright fresh ideas and the bravery to say "this will not do". I am tired of trash, I am tired of vagrants and shady characters. It is time we take this city back, just like the Mayor said!

This building is a symbol of that- we ARE Philadelphia, we are proud, we are strong, we are a force to be reckoned with, we have a great future and we will not be stopped!

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Project-blocking is not progress-blocking unless you can adequately define "progress". Tall buildings, without human scale, is anti-human and the antithesis of progress. Progress may be considered that which enhances life for the residents or citizens. Your comments.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous jeremy said...

In architecture as in life, solutions need not develop from either-or arguments: "Either you choose progress OR you choose atrophy. Either you prevent new building OR you throw together the East Coast's tallest tower."

Instead we could ask: what are our opportunities, what are our priorities, and how do we define our sense of city? Moreover, how can collectively work through these likely conflicting demands to both preserve what we love AND develop what we want and need?

Residents and corporations will have a broad spectrum of self-interests to protect -- and that's as it should be. Philadelphia must evolve for both businesses and residents in a way that each can appreciate.

For example, can we have world class building AND develop at a rate and scale we consider "Philadelphian"? Can we offer exciting night life and shopping destinations AND preserve natural land and views?

Comparisons to other cities can be useful because we should always look beyond our borders and learn from what we love elsewhere. (Remember that we might love something about Chicago that Chicago residents hate -- and Chicagoans might love something about Philadelphia that we're eager to demolish.)

Still, while appreciating the lessons of other cities and seeing ourselves from outside perspectives, Philadelphia remains uniquely Philadelphian, and appropriations from other models may only fit if thought about analogously. We love the Eiffel Tower, but we probably shouldn’t build an Eiffel Tower in Rittenhouse Park. But we could build a beautiful and iconic Rittenhouse Tower.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Parking lot vs this structure. Let them build it.

Why can't Philadelphia architecture model European architecture.

Our city is in the United States.

Having lived in Ill for high school and college, many friends from Chicago have visited me here and they love it.

Keep going foward build it all.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not know what some of you are talking about when you say something like "we need to have architecture on a human scale" and "this will add to the large areas that are dead after 5pm" This building has plenty of human scale and it will bring life to that area at night. If you people bothered to research the building proposal you would have know that the hotel portion of the building which is specifically designed to be at human scale has night life, restaurants,shops and a movie theater. This building plans to bring life to an area (yes life that is after 5pm) that is a parking lot...How many parking lots do you know have a vibrant night life and are adding to the architecture of this city?

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to get rid of the NIMBY mentality here. Let them build. Why must so many people fight progress here? Center City is dead after 5 p.m. because there is no draw to keep people there. The buildings that went up in the 70s and 80s in Philly are mostly putrid and lack any kind of character or appeal. This recent kind of development actually has some modern punch to it. It's world class. Why must we always settle for second rate here when we can get first class? Stop hindering progress and step aside so the city can move forward.

10:19 AM  
Anonymous EL_Turnstyle said...

"Progress may be considered that which enhances life for the residents or citizens"
...wow, let's have a few reminders or what "enhances life" to the NIMBY project-blockers who poetically voice dissent, but never make it clear what's their main objections to proposed structures. Let's begin shall we?

1. Enhancing Life at Broad and Washington, Avenue of the Arts...
=An eyesore metal fenced, weed infested, concrete/dirt lot, instead of a 30 story development, include nearly one million square feet of retail, office
space and condominiums mixed use condo/office tower! Yaaaaah!!!!

2. Enhancing Life at 18th and Arch.
=A concrete parking lot, instead of the third tallest building in the U.S which includes retail, hotel, and movie theatre!
Yaaah!!!

3. Enhancing Life in Society Hill between Front and Second.....
=A giant fenced in weedy concrete lot, instead of a luxury botique hotel/condo, a wide green space with benches, trees, wide widewalks and art!
Yaaaah!

4. Enhancing Life in Northern Liberties at Popular and Deleware Ave....
=A huge empty dirt lot in an industrial desert, instead of a 70 story condominium, boutique hotel, office and retail space with green space.
Yaaah!
You are right, we are not New York and Chicago. We don't want ground-breaking development, prestige, international acclaim, and the desire to attract people and corporations to live and invest in Philadelphia. Oh no, we prefer things the way they are. Why if businesses start to bring life and development back into the city, this might stop our population from dropping annually, and may start a trickle effect of revitalizing impovershed and crime-laden areas and bringing money to the city for education, social-plans and whatnot. No, we don't want this. Lets continue to keep investment away with our ugly outdated dilapidated structures, and weedy parking lots, and our lack of hotel, retail, and attraction venues. Hooray for the NIMBYs!

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blue City Arising!

Fancy creating structures that people will come to visit.
Be City hall the beacon.

To create a neo-baroque age:
let our architects, sculptors, masons and painters come together.
Return to Philadelphia its heritage.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The original statement was "project blocking equals progress blocking". Can one be in favor of progress and still want to block a particular project? By the way, I think the 18th & Arch project is a great one. I'm simply objecting to the original premise as stated above.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'm fine with this type of development if it doesn't circumvent a zoning process as Inga wrote about. A project of this size and impact has to be well considered and reviewed and maybe even reviewed again before being built. City Council should not give it an exemption from this process.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The developer will first obtain the zoning variances from City Council which will bypass the civic associations. At that juncture, the developer will be unable to finance the project whereupon they or a further buyer of the property will build something smaller and uglier. You heard it here.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The developer will first obtain the zoning variances from City Council which will bypass the civic associations. At that juncture, the developer will be unable to finance the project whereupon they or a further buyer of the property will build something smaller and uglier. You heard it here."

-Close, I'd like to edit that a little though. Civic associations will get a presentation or two discussing benefits of the project, the mayor will back the project 100% and get the governors backing as well. If funding becomes a problem- the KOZ issue will be brought out again, or another creative funding stream from the city and state, so long as the developer puts forth a good chunk of the $$ (which it looks like they can). The design will probably have 2-3 iterations- height will stay the same, but facade may be altered and the spire/crown may as well.

I'm guessing this may actually very well move forward/

9:26 AM  
Blogger JessB said...

You know... I don't think people are saying the city shouldn't progress, or that we shouldn't continue to build. What I personally am trying to point out is that there are ways to create new buildings without having to design more crappy glass boxes.

If we're going to be a city with draw, don't you think it would be better to create buildings that are at home HERE rather than copying somewhere else? We need architectural definition of character in this city -- a character that is already rich in history and variety.

I think in this whole thread, Jeremy said it best. We need to collectively come to a resolution, and do what is best for THIS city. And no, I don't think that means that keeping weed infested parking lots is the way to go. I just think developers should be more sensitive to their site and build accordingly. There are many cities in which insensitive building/development have either ruined or completely stagnated their centers. A stagnant center city is already what we begin to have after 5pm on Market Street between 22nd and 15th. And don't try to tell me that bringing hotels and retail is going to help. I don't see the hotel on Market between (I think) 17th and 18th providing loads of fascinating nightlife action.

And just as a side note, to call someone a "NIMBY project blocker" just because they're calling for a little bit of consideration for the city's existing condition (and no, I don't mean vacant lots -- don't be childish) is insulting and ignorant. I bet you're a developer yourself, on this site getting his/her panties all in a twist because someone dared to comment on this project. A note to you developers in general (excepting the ones with a little bit of vision -- namely those in NoLibs who are not only bring ACTUAL retail and living space into the area WITHOUT making skyscrapers, but who also do so with *gasp* interesting architectural statements): get over yourselves. The majority of this city does not want to wind up looking like Atlantic City with its ugly 1970s architecture, nor do we want second-rate copies of Daniel Libeskind towers. Bring us something interesting, original, and well-designed, and maybe people will be a little more welcoming. Stop tearing down our beautiful old buildings just because you don't feel like renovating them (remember the historic buildings on N. Broad and the one on Front Street?) Stop abusing our city, start actually listening to what those of us who are skeptical actually have to say, rather than blowing us off because we're "project blocking" and maybe we'll stop questioning your motives.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chicago Rox. Philly has alot of catching up to do. I'll be dead by the time I see results.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Degenerate said...

I'm shocked...

I'm shocked by the ignorance in these comments. Have any of you actually even read anything at all about this project? Or are you just throwing knee jerk reactions out there? Because had you done a little reading you would see that this project is ALREADY 100% funded, you would see that this project ALREADY has undergone preliminary review by the neighborhood association that would be affected, you would see that this project is RIGHT SMACK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT!!! You all need to get over yourselves. Seriously. This is a serious proposal with serious backing. The design will certainly undergo some changes, as all do before construction, but it greets the street rather well, and with all that NOT-office commercial space it would CERTAINLY bring life to that part of the city. Just because it isn't the kind of "architectural design" that YOU specifically want, does not in any way mean that it isn't appropriate. Get over yourself. You want to influence the design of buildings in this city? Become an architect. This is a city that exists WITHIN the world, we are not in a bubble. This project would do WONDERS for the city.

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A city is divided up into neighborhoods, plain and simple. NoLibs, Fishtown- they are doing great doing there own thing. Manayunk and Roxborough seem to be getting along just fine. Temple seems to be buying up everything between CC and NoLibs, which is impressive. South Philly couldn't be better and U City will be making leaps and bounds. No, what we are talking about here is Market West CC! Right exactly where a tower like this should go... people will work there during the day, business folks and tourists will stay at the hotel. Frankly- to all of us living in our neighborhoods- the only thing that matters is the design we will see from out homes, our neighborhoods. Right now- it could use a change or two- which as other posters have made abundantly clear- it will get. And yes- right now, funding doesn't appear to be an issue, this baby is going to go up and the view from my roof deck- should it be approved (fingerscrossed).

2:38 PM  
Blogger mickeytwin said...

Yeah...what degenerate just said and double for me!

2:41 PM  
Anonymous jeremy said...

Degenerate, this conversation meanders and digresses because these are emotional issues suggestive of current and past building debates. Even knowing that this project is funded, people will still debate whether it's a good idea or whether it should be changed in someway. People have the right to discuss such matters because, through a variety of channels, and often collectively, they have real power to shape the fact or the design of new development. Think about the casinos, the Kimmel Center, and many other projects: these are hotly debated, and it's right that they should be. No city belongs to developers and architects alone.

This conversation is certainly about the ACC, but it's also more broadly about different folks' stance on preservation, development, the future of the city, and their personal priorities. For some, this tower could be a step towards a less intimate Philadelphia, and a suggestion of past losses. For some it could mean an opportunity to expand beyond provincialism and create a modern, active, trend-setting city of which they can be proud.

In my earlier post, I tried to insist that both of these polar perspectives must be considered valid, and that all choices we make as a city occur somewhere along their continuum. It's silly to say, "We must never build -- or if we build we must only build 2-story brick dwellings in the Colonial style." But it's also silly to say, "All proposed projects must be green-lighted, and we insist each one is a skyscraping glass-and-steel record-breaker." Neither perspective will necessarily yield a liveable, complex Philadelphia. No matter how many towers we build, or no matter how quaint and cobbled the streets are, crime and corruption won’t go away.

Neither camp is shrouded in fear or ignorance, and neither has some insane bloodlust, so let's tone back the debate just a bit. Each camp wants more or less the same thing: to help produce a beautiful, respected, and effective city that attracts business, residents, and tourists. If possible, let's try to discuss what existing features we like about Philadelphia and what features we like in other cities. We could also discuss what we believe might stimulate business, what would provide a healthful and exciting environment in which to live and raise children, what would offer exciting nightlife, shopping, and entertainment opportunities for residents and tourists alike, etc etc. These are broad and complex subjects, especially for discussing on a blog comments thread, but these are broad and complex issues. And of course, all of these issues are involved or implied when discussing a massive new development like the ACC.

Lastly, thank you JessB for the recognition. I tried to think about the situation dispassionately, see both sides, and organize a structure for considering the issues -- so of course I don’t know why I was surprised when my comment was met with thundering silence.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Degenerate said...

Jeremy I'm not saying there shouldn't be debate about this project, and I'm certainly not saying that the city should be handed over to developers, but the fact of the matter is that much of what is being "discussed" are questions that are already answered. As far as it's height and density go, it is well within the Central Business District(CBD) and as such the only the discussion there should be about how it greets the street. The design of the tower itself is second to that, and will, like I and many others have said, undergo changes. Those changes will occur as a result of the developers desire, the city's watchful eye, and the citizens engagement. There was mention of developers not being sensitive to their sites... exactly what does that mean? This building will be in the CBD, NOT a residential neighborhood, and is being built on top of a parking lot a block away from our other newest tallest building. This building greets the street better then most of what we've been given in the last decade, AND brings much life to a rather dead part of Center City. Considering the giant hole cut out of it, for many reasons, one of which is to preserve some views from neighboring rental buildings, I don't see how anyone can think the builders AREN'T being considerate. The notion that any development must be met with skepticism and criticism until the people get whatever they want is ridiculous. This is privately owned land, and being built with private money. Being in the CBD it will effect the people of this city, mostly visually. Within the CBD height is not an issue. The street is, and this project is WELL thought out as far as that is concerned and will only get better. Continually addressing development in this city by pointing out anything and everything that you personally think is wrong with a project is no way to address any sort of reasonable dialogue between developers and citizens. You live in a major city... huge skyscrapers and high density projects are going to be built. It's a fact of life. The design of ANY major project by any major firm is going to follow current trends. At the moment this is what is being built. That doesn't mean discussion can't be had. That doesn't mean things can't change prior to construction. But to suggest that an architectural firm designing all over the world needs to suddenly design in a completely different manner simply because they are in a certain city is ludicrous. Provinciality(!) gets us no where but stagnation. Which is something this city needs to get as far away from as possible.

And let us also remember that this is not a finished project. It's the first rendering of a project that is not expected to break ground even until a year from now. Comcast Center underwent changes WELL into construction. I stand by my knee jerk reactions statement.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Degenerate said...

Jeremy I do agree with this statement very much...

"Each camp wants more or less the same thing: to help produce a beautiful, respected, and effective city that attracts business, residents, and tourists."

4:13 PM  
Blogger JessB said...

First of all, degenerate, I AM an architect. I am trying to do my small part in contributing to the architecture world. Just because something is "right smack in the center of the business district" does not mean that it should automatically be designed the way it is, or that it should be so incredibly forceful. Mixed use is an extremely difficult building type to predict. If it's residential, it's pretty deserted between 8:30 and 5:30pm. If it's commercial, it's deserted between 7pm and 8am (I'd love you to name ONE store on Walnut or Chestnut that's open after 7:30 on most weeknights). If it's office space, it's deserted between 5pm and 9am. Judging from what I've read about the project, it could bring some interesting action to the area. Or it could just end up being a dead plaza like most of Center City after 5pm. As I'm sure you know, there ARE restaurants and hotels in the Center City business district, but no one would ever know it most of the time. I can attest to that, since I often walk home from rehearsals at 10pm and that area is ALWAYS deserted. We're not talking about Times Square here. If we were, I might have a different opinion. Times Square had a sort of organic upbringing as a hub of commerce, arts, and business. Its buildings began to grow up accordingly as a GROUP, beginning in the years prior to the turn of the last century. They didn't all just pop up as skyscrapers over a thirty year period. When the enormous skyscrapers went up beginning in the 80s, there were already comparably sized buildings there. in contrast, prior to Liberty Place's construction (I think it was Liberty Place...), there were no buildings taller than City Hall. Then suddenly, 30-some-odd years later we've got a whole district of ugly 70s/80s era buildings that are imposing and unwelcoming. Yeah. It's great. Really wonderful.

And not to bring up something that's another snag in this project's fabric, but what about the current economic situation? Do you really think it's a good idea to be creating a building that is going to house RETAIL space when we are currently headed straight for the Great Depression II? I don't doubt that someone will respond with some comment about this new building creating jobs, but who's going to work in a deserted hotel? Or a non-existent Gap? Or a restaurant that goes under after two weeks because they can't afford the overhead?

So what are you saying, degenerate? That we can't critique a building that has been designed in a half-assed manner? I'm sorry, but that's just stupid. If someone had put up this design at a grad school review, it would have been ripped to shreds. I don't doubt that it will undergo changes. But also understand that most changes that take place in the later stages of the design process are not always for the better. I worry that this building will not become more respective of the space, but more clunky and forceful.

And Jeremy, I think the reason you were met with silence is because you're right. All of the people disagreeing with points of view like mine know that there needs to be a certain modicum of reserve and respect for the space as well as progress. They know there needs to be a compromise. They just don't like to admit it.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Degenerate said...

Jess the first thing I want to say is I was not referring specifically to you in my post. I was speaking more in general terms.

I don't think that this is a half ass design. I also am not entirely disagreeing with you. I am however, saying that on this comment thread, and in other places, in regard to this project, and many others, the debate is generally guided by knee jerk reactions and nostalgic longing for a city that hasn't technically existed for some time and are not based in reality.

You're right about the current buildings in the CBD lacking some in design, but again that is subjective. Your opinion of them, my opinion of them, its all subjective.

I'm not trying to claim anyone is wrong about their opinions, but I am trying to say that arguing against something based on subjective reasoning is uncalled for. No, this city shouldn't settle for anything and everything that a developer throws at us, but we also can't expect that we should have a say in anything and everything. Compromise is ideal, but again, there are other factors that will determine the level of compromise. A private developer using private funds need only address the citizens as far as he wants and the zoning code requires. That is all I'm saying. If they are within the zoning code, and any other regulations imposed on them... you can't expect to have much of an impact, for better or worse.

The economic situation is another issue entirely. On that front, I tend to be a bit more optimistic than most. So from my perspective I don't see much of a problem considering this building wouldn't open until 2012 at least.

On another note, I'm not sure what anyone considers "life" in the city. I do know that going out in the city as much as I do, there are plenty of clubs/bars/restaurants along the chestnut/walnut corridors to keep the city lively at night. There are parts that are more dead than others ofcourse, but for this project specifically, I do believe it would do a lot as far as bringing life to that area.

I don't want this post to be too long so I will just stop here...

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Scarecrow Alchemist said...

Jess and Degenerate- what good posts from both of you- this has turned into a very solid thread, kudos.

Degenerate, I tend to agree with most of what you are saying. Jess, I too am of your ilk- or close to it. As a practicing urban planner with a deep passion for architecture, I see the merit in your dissent- but I also see the zeal that many of us in the "visionary" profession tend to get.

I currently live and practice in Boston (but my heart will always be in Philly), where the city is grappling with several issues that are similar to this one. Boston has proposed a new tallest building as well, some time ago- by the mayor. The site is a current parking garage is a state of disrepair in the downtown finance district. Met with many of the arguments you made, people have finally realized that the district is a CBD and therefore can only sustain so much activity beyond regular business hours. The weekends in that area are positively dead, as is life after 6pm.

I tend to agree with a previous poster- even in the best of American and European cities, these areas tend to suffer from a lack of use and activity beyond business. While we should strive for growth away from that- a project that puts a considerable attempt in to address that should not be scorned. As Philadelphia grows, evolves, and has people move back (as I intend to soon); Walnut Street will surely see a resurgence and is, indeed Degenerate- already off to a good start.

Design-wise, the glass facade, while seemingly overplayed, matches a good portion of newer developments in Center City. Frankly, in my professional opinion- I can't think of a large building such as One Liberty, Comcast Center, John Hancock Tower, Sears Tower, etc. that is "personal" as you would put it. The concept to me, is mutually exclusive. This design "meets the street" fantastically- I think it would honestly be a prime location for a good sized cinema perhaps? Or maybe a new performance venue? A people grabber to the area would be a benefit. At the same time, retail and food serving the business community will do just fine as well. I would agree that a graduate school review would rip the design apart, however- I think that only minor changes need to be made to make the most of this possible monumental structure. When thinking of Philadelphia's skyline, with all due respect to Comcast, it should not be boxed off the way it is now. The tallest building should do what Liberty One did, emulated our most treasured gem- City Hall. The Freedom Tower-esque design would be better edited to have a peak or spire similar to Liberty One and City Hall, yet in a post modern sense that will match the current phase our the city's growth/evolution. But as Degenerate noted- this is my subjective opinion.

Financially- I also agree that while we may be in for some tough times through 2009-2010, the building completion would dovetail nicely with the forecasted recovering economy, while still creating many, many temporary jobs in the interim.

I too, could go on for some time at length about this; but I will close with the fact that projects such as these a good for Philadelphia. The contrast between megalithic skyscrapers and the miniature row homes is actually attractive to many people. When one looks at photo essays of Pittsburgh for instance- they are often contrasts of a traditional Pittsburgh-style single family home against the beautiful skyline. The same holds true for many views of Philadelphia. One only need go to phillyskyline.com 's photo essays to see this. One post before said that the skyscrapers make a wonderful backdrop to our city- I would agree with that statement. Our skyline defines our sense of place and in the immediate vincity our urban canyons, Philadelphia is creating a competitive and notable American downtown.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous davis said...

I'm with jessb 100% on this. I don't care how tall and flashy it is. If it isn't somehow related to what makes Philadelphia unique then it will be one more poorly designed tall building with no relationship to what we need, then it's time to go back to the drawing board.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The design of this tower should undergo revisions, distancing itself from the proposed Freedom Tower in New York. Create something uniquely Philadelphia. Create something unique to the world.

First and foremost, this is a bold plan and should be supported. Philadelphia is a re-emerging city. It should also be an emerging "global" city. Targeted tenants of this tower should hail from such locations as Dubai, Shanghai, and Mumbai. It is in these locations where the highest level of wealth is being created. It is in these locations, therefore, that the emerging companies will be looking to expand into the US. What better address than a tower reflecting a global image and in a city looking for a place in the global community?

This translates into the need to create a truly global image for this building. The distinct designs of new buildings in some of these other cities instills a sophisticated, global feel. It also creates a unique image for the city and its' residents. This proposed structure must also seek to accomplish this, representing Philadelphia's emergence as a global city.

Change the name of the tower to the International Commerce Center. Change the design and focus on a truly global image. Actively promote it on the world stage. Give the world and Philadelphia the image it deserves.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Commerce Center is just a few blocks away! so the name should be changed to remove "Commerce"

here's a few possible names for this fictional, never to be built complex (as it has no office tenants):
18th Street Center
18th Street Place
18th Street Tower

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

here's another one:
Ben Franklin Tower!
And Another
Liberty and Freedom for all Tower!
And another:
the "It's not your tower syou dont get to name it tower"

(the last one is my faorite)

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope that they don't demolish the Girard Building....

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Philadelphia skyline is so changed now that you can't even see City Hall anymore. And I think there's great symbolism in that, as well as the dead giveaway that this city isn't its own city anymore, but is now wholly owned and controlled by those not of here and for whom what happens to here is of no consequence.

In the case of Philadelphia's new skyscrapers going up it's not a matter of "penis envy," not in the least, but rather, it's the total inversion of that. For these new skyscrapers now dominating Philadelphia's skyline are not Philadelphia's skyscrapers; they are totally somebody else's, and placed here as a deliberate humiliation of the great city Philadelphia once was but is no more. And of what is in dominance here now, there is nothing great about it whatsoever. Rather, it is the most classic case I know of that not all that glitters is gold.

The skyscrapers that adorn Philadelphia's skyline today were not designed by Philadelphians, were not built by Philadelphians, and were not designed and built for Philadelphians. And they do not speak for Philadelphia, starting with Rouse's Liberty One, the first to break the height ordinance, and all the skyscrapers that followed thereafter. And rather than their being tributes to what is great, they are tributes to what isn't. For they are not here to inspire, but to humiliate, like the jealous knives thrust into Julius Caesar, no different.

12:14 AM  
Anonymous camarillo office space said...

JUST WHEN you thought you were getting over the crick in your neck from looking up at Philly's skyscrapers, along comes a proposal that would be a real test of your flexibility.

There is a proposal afoot to build what would be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the second-tallest building in the world when stacked against existing buildings, at 18th and Arch streets, in Center City. A 2,000-foot-tall condominium building is under construction in Chicago.

The American Commerce Center, at a proposed 1,500 feet, would be 525 feet higher than the Comcast Center, now Philly's tallest building at 975 feet, a block away.

It would surpass the Empire State Building's 1,250 feet.

Phillyskyline.com waxed poetic in its description of what's happening:

"Your Philly skyline is about to change. About to incur a growth spurt. About to shatter any notion of Philadelphian reservedness, about to take A New Day A New Way to a whole other level."

Generating this excitement is the proposal to construct what would be a mix of retail, hotel and office space - and even a movie theater - in an $800 million, 2.2-million-square-foot skyscraper on what is now a parking lot.

Global skylineThe project would be built by Walnut Street Capital, a Philadelphia development company headed by Garrett Miller, which purchased the 1.5-acre lot from Verizon Communications Inc. of New York in October.

Does Philadelphia need another giant office building?

Miller thinks so. He said he believes there is a "void" of newer office stock in Center City that this building would fill and help attract corporate headquarters to the city, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal, which reported the tower story in its Friday print edition.

"I think Philadelphia has a need for a new office building," Miller told the Journal.

"It would be an iconic structure," he said. "This is something that Philadelphia has not seen before."

Nor much of the world. The building's height would be second only to Taipei 101, in Taiwan, at 1,670 feet.

There are broadcast towers that are taller: Canadian National Tower, Toronto, 1,815 feet; Ostankin, Moscow, 1,762; KFVS-TV, near Cape Girardeau, Mo., 1,677; and Oriental Pearl, Shanghai, 1,535. But even with several other taller buildings on the drawing board around the world, the proposed edifice would be part of a small club - and eco-friendly on top of that.

The American Commerce Center would be constructed with a U.S. Green Building Council LEED Gold Certification in mind.

A "green building" is one that increases the efficiency with which it uses resources - energy, water and materials, and which reduces its impact on human health and the environment.

The proposed building will need zoning adjustments, but it apparently has the backing of Mayor Nutter.

Through his press secretary, Doug Oliver, the mayor said he believes the building "would be a spectacular addition to Philadelphia's skyline. Sustainability efforts and building green continue to be hallmarks of this administration and the plans for this particular project are consistent with those goals."

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Philadelphia was the past,and is the future.We are a unquestionably are on par with the great cities of the globe . Reach for the stars...

10:54 PM  

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