Friday, December 6, 2013

Toll Brother to take on Rittenhouse Square?

For some time Toll Brothers has been experimenting in expanding its market to urban spaces, even Manhattan. Naval Square, though fortressed from its urban surroundings, has been Forgotten Bottom's most successful development.

But the development corporation, largely synonymous with suburban McMansions, has also been growing vertically.

Recently Toll Brothers has explored the possibility of purchasing 1911 Walnut Street. Just off Rittenhouse Square, the vacant lot is perhaps the city's most coveted construction site.

Castleway's 1911 Walnut

Empty since the 90s and owned by Ireland's Castleway Properties, the lot's last proposal was for a 50 story tower that died with the Great Recession.

It was an exciting design, but given Toll Brothers' reputation, one that likely won't be resurrected. As one of the largest development companies in the nation, Toll Brothers is a publically traded company. Although their talent may not want to design for the status quo, appeasing its shareholders often means doing just that.

1911 Walnut's premier address deserves exciting architecture. But Castleway Properties purchased the lot for nearly $38M, and that price tag means fielding a developer that can afford it. Having been vacant for two decades, Toll Brothers may be the only offer the site could see for a while.

Toll Brothers isn't the only company guilty of lackluster design. It's a hazard of the trade. While corporations like Comcast and Verizon want to stamp their brand on exciting architecture, residential developers, even private ones, need to appeal to the broadest range of customers. That often means dull glass curtains. When residential developers try to offer something interesting we wind up with Symphony House.

If Toll Brothers does decides to purchase the site, and that's still a big "if," they may consider the significance of the address and offer up something exciting. They're certainly capable. Given Philadelphia's influential neighborhood organizations, a Toll Brothers tower at 1911 Walnut will never look bad. If developed, the worst the site would see is something dull. But it all remains to be seen.

1 comment:

  1. Hint: You should look at Toll Brother's highrise developments in New York. You won't be disappointed.