Monday, October 20, 2008

The Look of Penn's New Med Center

Since it was impossible to tell anything about the new Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine from the Inquirer photo that ran with my Friday column, here are a couple of my own humble pics.
Basically, I have two beefs with this building, designed jointly by Rafael Vinoly Architects and Perkins Eastman: its aesthetics and its lack of urbanity. The $302 million design weirdly surrounds a gigantic, 110-high cube-shaped glass atrium with the most banal of ribbon-windowed suburban office buildings. I describe the look variously as an "architectural car crash" and a "python strangling its fragile prey."

It's bad enough when a building of this prominence (it replaces the much loved, art deco Civic Center) looks bad, but it's even worse when it thumbs its nose at the general public. My column takes issue with the massive driveway and porte cochere that dominates the entrance, which perpetuates the unfriendly street environment of Penn's hospital district.
A couple of emailers wrote to take me to task for begrudging the seriously ill an easy drop-off at the front door. Just to be clear, I never suggest there shouldn't be a drop off. What I argue for is a drop-off that also respects the thousands of people who work at the hospital complex (as well as the occasional pedestrian that might dare to enter through the front door.) Since CAM had a huge, cleared site to work with, it could have located that drop-off in any number of places. I suggested making it part of the large, underground garage, since it's just as easy to access the medical offices from there as from the front lobby. But the drop off mighthave been on the side of the building, which is a less traveled pedestrian street.

So why didn't they do that? If you examine the siting of the building, you'll notice it doesn't respond to the curve in Civic Center Boulevard. Rather, the structure is angled to be seen from 34th and Spruce. Pushing the front door back, behind the driveway, helps position CAM so it can be admired from the corner. if you look at the picture on the right, taken from the South Street Bridge, you'll note that the designers also made a point of showing a good face to Center City. I can only deduce that branding is more important to Penn's medical center than the well-being and comfort of its workforce.


Blogger rasphila said...

What is it with Penn, anyway? They have a great urban setting and a lot of nice older buildings. How did they come up with buildings like this one (nice descriptive phrases, by the way) and the Wharton Library, which is straight out of the French World War I fortress school of design.

They could have done a lot better than that.

2:16 PM  
Blogger BF said...

Thank you for the pictures. However, there are two flaws to the logic that the building is sited wrong: first, it is not angled to be seen down 34th St. It is angled to respond to the as-yet undeveloped (but under way) health/research facilities that will fill in the old Civic Center Site. Second, this building does not somehow ignore staff: they have a distinct entry that is close to the parking garages they park in, or the train station they take to work. This is connected to the hospital district by the sidewalk that has artifacts from the beloved Civic Center. Stay tuned to this district!

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Guess you missed the dozens of cars backed up on 33rd blocking all the emergency vehicles and such.

Hence he bigger driveway than HUP's.

And it was designed "gasp" for it's purpose more about the inside than the outside.

Purpose. Budgets. Two words you always overlook in every article

1:37 PM  
Anonymous David said...

It is my understanding that the adjacent 1970's hotel is going to be demolished and an urban square (probably designed by Laurie Olin)created. This will give the hospital district at least some recognizable urban flavor. I believe the intention is to ameliorate the clutter by extending a connection to the Penn Museum which I think any rational person would agree is a marvel of Philadelphia design.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't understand why a Vinoly gets any more jobs in this town after the leaky, overbudget, underperforming Kimmel Center

11:02 AM  
Anonymous John Kneeland said...

David is correct, according to the Penn Connects plan:

Museum Plaza

Museum Plaza, located to the south of the museum on the existing Penn Tower site, will provide a much needed public open space in the densely developed medical district. It is intended
to offer glimpses of the river beyond the Highline, provide more convenient and visible access to the University City Station (SEPTA line), and provide a pedestrian link to future development
east of the Highline. Museum Plaza will link to the existing River Fields area via a pedestrian bridge constructed over SEPTA and under the Highline. The bridge will connect with a parking garage
that will serve ultimately as a podium for future medical facility expansion. A deck is proposed over I-76 to provide a riverfront overlook.

5:23 AM  

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