Amnesia Sweeps Society Hill
Yet, residents are so fixated on the height of the project's 15-story, asymmetrical towers - which top out at 166 feet - that their memory banks seems to have been wiped out.
They've con- veniently forgotten about the presence of three 31-story skyscrapers by I.M. Pei just up the block, which are probably twice as tall as the proposed replacement for the NewMarket. (I shamelessly stole the photograph here from Brad Maule, who has a good analysis at PhillySkyline.) They've also forgotten about the rather bulky Abbott's Square, right across the street from the NewMarket site. Harry seems to have completely blocked out that his Society Hill Civic Association allowed in the 1970s-80s the construction of two 25-story towers at Independence Place, which, of course, are located across the street from the 35-story Hopkinson House! And wasn't it just a couple of years ago that Society Hill Civic approved Will Smith's 112-foot W Hotel without any of the sturm and drang we're seeing today. Hardly an unsullied low-rise enclave.
Society Hill-ians, who will vote tonight on the project, are immensely proud of Society Hill Towers, which jump-started the neighborhood's landmark revival, and frequently point to that design as a model. While the project is certainly important historically, it's hard to overlook the designs serious urban flaws. For starters, there is the towers-in-a-park layout and the separation from the street grid - two mistakes that should not be repeated in Philadelphia. One of the very good things about the layout and massing of Stamper Square is that it connects with the grid in multiple urban ways. It also pushes those two, now modest, mid-rise towers to the far edge of the site, so they hardly interfere with the blocks of low-rise townhouses. They will overlook the broad openness of Front Street, with I-95 and the Delaware River in the distance.
In arriving at this massing and layout, the architects at H2L2 have essentially articulated some useful, basic rules for siting tall buildings in Philadelphia:
1) Bring the buildings to the street line
2) But make sure the massing responds to the urban context on the edges
3) Place tall structure on big streets, facing parks or other broad expanses
4) You can never be too rich or too skinny. Tall, skinny towers are usually better than short fat ones. Rich articulation beats large, under-detailed expanse.
5) Include public open space, but avoid anti-urban setbacks from the street line.
I'm sure there are other rules that could be added to the list, and I'd love to hear suggestions.