Philadelphia's unusually quebecois weather seems to be taking a toll on our critics and Robert A. M. Stern's firm has become their punching bag. Shortly before the Inquirer's architecture critic Inga Saffron eviscerated the LDS's 1601 Vine Street apartment building, and their Mormon Temple and community center, the Philadelphia Art Commission sent Stern back to the drafting table with his Museum of the American Revolution.
While Stern claims the museum was intended to be a flattened Independence Hall, it seems to echo the neighboring customs house with its hackneyed cupola. That cupola, easily eliminated, seems to be the source of the building's greatest gripes. But because it's been unseasonably freezing since December, those who hold the museum's balls in their hands aren't content with handsome classicism in a handsomely classical part of town.
While the building does provide a blank wall on Chestnut Street, it replaces a brick fortress entered midblock with an entrance facing the corner of Third and Chestnut. Devoid of its cupola it's a fine building befitting its neighbors and its collection. It won't architecturally rival the new Barnes Museum but it's not an art museum. When classicism is employed on the National Mall it's applauded, so why is a museum dedicated to history criticized for echoing history in Center City's most historic part of town?
Philadelphia has found itself in an interesting place. We haven't developed much in the last five years so we've demanded the best of developers who've managed to secure the funds to work.
Now that we're faced with a building boom rivaling the early 2000s, critics are treating the bevy of development like a kid on Christmas morning: it has to be perfect. Stern's design for the Revolution Museum isn't amongst the best in the city, but neither is the museum's content. Its architecture befits its collection. We shouldn't expect less, but with skyscrapers blooming along the nether regions of the city, Philadelphia has joined the ranks of Chicago and New York, where not every new project is vying for an award.