Monday, July 07, 2008

Erdy McHenry Sails onto Mall

If you were too busy Friday enjoying the waves and the fireworks to read the Inquirer, you may have missed my Changing Skyline column on Erdy McHenry Architecture's newest building, a ship-tight, 28-foot-long, open-air cafe on Independence Mall. As these images by Roman Torres of Pixelcraft (none of which made it into Friday's Inquirer. Grrrrr!) suggest, their new Independence Al Fresco Cafe is a taut piece of architectural craftsmanship, unlike any of the uber-conser-vative structures that have been built on the mall. The cafe may appear to be just a simple park pavilion. But you really have to experience it to appreciate its beautiful efficiency and clever subversion of the mall's long-standing brick imperatives.
Erdy McHenry has been on a tear in Philadelphia since they completed One Hancock Square, the apartment building on Second Street in Northern Liberties, for developer Bart Blatstein. They've completed so many complex projects since then - Avenue North, a Drexel University residence - that it was a surprise to stumble upon a feature about the already-familiar Hancock Square in the June issue of Architectural Record. (Here's a short version). The story was a real coup for the firm. You could almost count on one hand the number of completed Philadelphia buildings that have made it into the architectural profession's official magazine in the past five or ten years - Vinoly's Kimmel, MGA's Penn Facilities building, Kling's De Seta building (okay, it's in Wilmington), Gluckman-Mayner's Perelman addition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
And there's more coming: the controversial and humongous Radian near the Penn campus and yet another student housing project for Drexel, now going up at 34th and Race Streets. The tower (left) is a circular structure that appears to spin as it rises and looks to be their most daring project yet. Its faceted opening will have views of Center City. Pretty nice digs for student housing. No wonder they don't call them dorms any more.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, have you actually been to this project or did you just look at the pictures. The pictures look great(good work Roman), and to be entirely honest i like the building, minus a few small moves that i think should be different such as how it "sits" on the brick wall on the east side, etc, etc., and I am not a fan of the Plastic sky bubble, but these are the least of this buildings problems.
Here is the bigger problem, those pictures must have been taken the day it opened because that building is poorly detailed and constructed and is literally falling apart.
The wood on the ceiling is buckling down at least 6" from the ceiling and there are at least an inch and a half gaps that have opened up on the wood flooring, the detailing around the windows is horribly constructed and whoever the contractor is should have been fired from the job and replaced with someone who is competent. The wood flooring sticks out past the folding glass wall/doors and ends in a grate and literally sucks water into the building everytime it rains.
I cannot believe that you would call this building ship tight, or a taut piece of architectural craftsmanship, come on, go look at it, this building needs to be renovated already and it just opened.
Erdy Mchenry should take some responsibility as the designer of a public cafe and have the contractors come back and fix this project before it becomes (in a detail sense) an eyesore.
Erdy, slow down and detail your projects, make something that is beautiful and will last, not something that is just a temperary blip/fad that will only be around for 2 years and then have to be removed from the mall.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am surprised by your praise of this pavillion...although i think the ideas and concepts for this building are strong, the execution is extremely poor....this pavillion is essentially new, yet it is already falling apart...the constructed details reveal the architect's disregard(or maybe little knowledge?) for the nature of the materials used and environmental context of the building......take another careful look...or better yet take another look this winter

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Morty said...

I have not been inside this building, and do admire the look from a distance, but if what the other commentators say is true, it should serve as a reminder to Inga that good architecture is about more than exterior materials and shapes.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would look at the radian more closely. This one got shoved down the neighborhoods throat by penn. It is also not a well crafted building. Though the bigger issue I think is the siting. It is a behemoth and dwarfs a series of existing structures along sansom street. There are now rowhouses on Sansom with 12' deep yards a 100' high wall, cutting off all daylight to these places. The retail elements of the buildings along walnut is fairly interesting, but it is fairly clear who the client was and that responding to the context was not on the agenda. I have also seen the cafe and have quite a bit of respect for their other work, but that cafe is a clear indicator of a lack of understanding of any sense of quality on someone's part. These kinds of inconsistencies make me worry about where they might be headed and building too much of a reputation for cool and cheap building. Between the radian and the cafe I am not hopeful. You blast Jim Garrison for a cheap wall high above the street, forced on him by a client(I am sure) but ignore many of the flaws from a firm that is really effecting the city in many neighborhoods. A more even handed approach on these issues seems worth considering.

10:00 PM  

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