Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Filling the Convention Center's Gap

It looks like Phila-delphians will have to wait at least until September to find out how the Penn-sylvania Convention Center plans to fill the big Broad Street gap, created when the state Department of General Services callously tore down a group of protected buildings that were supposed to be incorporated into the center's new facade.

The Convention Center Authority, along with its bosses at DGS, had been expected to show up at the Art Commission's July 2 meeting with renderings in hand, showing how they intended to screen the three-sided opening where Pennsylvania Life Insurance Co. buildings once stood. (They were located just to the right of the now-departed Odd Fellows building, in the photo.) But the convention center isn't listed on tomorrow's Art Commission agenda and, since there is no August meeting, that brings us to September. No doubt, camouflaging DGS' mistake is turning out to be more complicated (and expensive) than first envisioned.

The front walls of the insurance company buildings, which included a remarkable addition by Philadelphia School architect Romaldo Giurgola, were originally supposed to be woven into the center's long glass front, perhaps to house a restaurant. So, why not just continue the center's airport-modern glass facade a bit further south on Broad Street? That's not so easily done, it seems. The center's design has an elevator core at the back wall of the gap, which is about 40 feet in from the original streetwall. So the three-sided space is something of a dead end. At one point the convention center said it would turn the gap into a pocket park. But the park would be so tiny and closed in, some complain it would end up a dark hang-out for the homeless - a waste of public space. Another reason why the expanded convention center is likely to end up the SUV of meeting halls.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Steve Maczko said...

I find this piece remarkably offensive.

One must begin with the premise that a lot is riding--for both the city and the region-- on the success of the Center. With a tight budget and a tight timetable, one must empathize with the officials in the CCA and DGS that need to make reasonable decisions that result in timely success.

"Bosses?" "Calously tore down...?" "SUV of meeting halls"

The purpoe of topoi such as these--and the many others for which Inga is notorious--is to delegitimize the obligation of public officials to focus on the economic and social well being of our citizens. They seek instead to provide legitimacy instead to the idea that our society's primary goal is to satisfy the demands of a effete upper class for pure and unadulated refinement.

Inga's motto? "Let them eat art!"

12:37 PM  
Anonymous wally said...

Yes Steve, a lot is riding on the success of this center. That's exactly the point. Urban-minded design is a must for such a large, government funded project, and such good design is noticeably missing here.

Where along the continuously monotonous facade is there an inviting entrance for Philadelphia's citizens? What is being done about the many square feet of unused space on the roof that could easily become an attractively landscaped park? What happened to the older buildings that could have added character and historical continuity between the new center and the past?

This building is neither contextually sensitive, nor progressively contemporary. It's an outdated design meant solely for one oversupplied sector of our economy. Sure, it will attract more conventions, but there was a missed opportunity to turn this from a monolithic meeting place into a focal point of activity for the whole community. Such considerations should be mandatory when a huge project like this is placed right in the heart of a dense city.

The economic and social well-being of Philadelphians is about more than the bottom-lines of cost and time.

If officials in other cities understand this, then why shouldn't ours?

1:52 PM  
Anonymous wally said...

Yes Steve, a lot is riding on the success of this center. That's exactly the point. Urban-minded design is a must for such a large, government funded project, and such good design is noticeably missing here.

Where along the continuously monotonous facade is there an inviting entrance for Philadelphia's citizens? What is being done about the many square feet of unused space on the roof that could easily become an attractively landscaped park? What happened to the older buildings that could have added character and historical continuity between the new center and the past?

This building is neither contextually sensitive, nor progressively contemporary. It's an outdated design meant solely for one oversupplied sector of our economy. Sure, it will attract more conventions, but there was a missed opportunity to turn this from a monolithic meeting place into a focal point of activity for the whole community. Such considerations should be mandatory when a huge project like this is placed right in the heart of a dense city.

The economic and social well-being of Philadelphians is about more than the bottom-lines of cost and time.

If officials in other cities understand this, then why shouldn't ours?

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Andrew said...

The reason Pennsylvania Convention Center is appealing to visitors to Philadelphia is because developers preserved Reading Terminal and made it part of the new structure.

Maybe it would've been faster and easier to just knock down Reading Terminal and start from scratch. When you choose the easy route and build something lacking in charm, however, it ends up costing the city money in the long run. Other cities will build facilities that are more appealing and take away your business.

Whoever decided to knock down the historic buildings on Broad Street rather than incorporate them into the expansion forgot what made Pennsylvania Convention Center appealing to visitors to Philadelphia.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous davis said...

"Inga's motto? "Let them eat art!"

Better than let them eat the crap they try to give us....

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Convention Center may be important, but that's no excuse for bad design! Building projects worldwide are important, but done poorly they aren't worth as much to their communities.

Good design affects everybody on the street and that's important, too.

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I still fail to see why that Giurgola addition was so remarkable...oh well...here's to hoping that empty space becomes an outdoor cafe!

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, the haas park at 17th and chestnut is the ultimate pocket park; practically an alley but a wonderful oasis nonetheless. The trick is, they lock it at 5:00.

1:16 PM  

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