Thursday, February 13, 2014

Philadelphia's Next Building Boom

Philadelphia seems to be experiencing its second building boom of the 21st century. While at the moment it exists as a series of renderings and proposals, the architectural excitement of a dramatically altered skyline is beginning to feel like a real possibility.
Looking back there are a lot of parallels. Some proposals that followed the Roaring 90s were better left on the drafting table such as Carl Marx Real Estate Group's World Trade Square, but others like Richard Meier's refined, world class Mandeville Place were unfortunately lost when the bubble burst.
Comcast's Innovation and Technology Center is obviously the most notable proposal today. With starchitect Norman Foster designing what will be the tallest building in the U.S. outside Chicago and New York at 1121 feet, Philadelphia's skyline will be dominated without convention.
Comcast Innovation and Technology Center
This isn't the first supertall proposed for Philadelphia. KlingStubbin's Center City Tower was proposed for the cleared One Meridian Plaza site. 1050 feet, at the time it would have surpassed any U.S. building outside Chicago and New York. 

Center City Tower

Liberty Property Trust hired Kohn Pederson Fox to design American Commerce Center for the current site of Comcast's ITC. At 1510 feet, it would have been the tallest building in the U.S. Unfortunately, neither proposition came with a tenant.
American Commerce Center
The architectural attempt to rebrand Philadelphia's corporate image in the early 2000s wasn't confined to Center City. Cesar Pelli's Cira Centre was the first phase in a master plan that would have put four crystalline towers on the west bank of the Schuylkill River, with more potentially capping the Amtrak tracks north of 30th Street Station.
KMCA Architecture's view of a complete Cira Centre
Although The Grove at Cira Centre South deviates from the master plan, FMC's proposed tower on Walnut Street, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli, remains largely unchanged. At 656 feet it will easy be the tallest skyscraper west of the city's core.
FMC Tower at Cira Centre South
Carl Marx Real Estate Group's World Trade Square would have placed a massive corporate and residential complex on the Delaware River near Northern Liberties. Not the most exciting proposal save its mass, it's a plan that refuses to vanish.
World Trade Square
Waterfront Renaissance Associate's Alesker & Dundon Architects designed Renaissance Plaza shares its concept, although at 292 feet, less ambitious.
Renaissance Plaza
One of the most lavish proposals in this vicinity, and perhaps one of the city's most unusual ever, was Agoos/Lovera's 749 foot Bridgeman's View Tower. At the time, Bridgeman's View stood to anchor a new urban space, flanked by nearly a dozen midrise proposals. The newly developed neighborhood would have been an addendum to Northern Liberty's successful transformation, perhaps even serving as "Downtown Northern Liberties."

Bridgeman's View
Yet most of these never materialized leaving us with the worst of the bunch: the incomplete, gated Waterfront Square and SugarHouse Casino's sprawling suburban complex lacking its promised hotel towers. While SugarHouse plans to expand, it's expanding horizontally like a gussied up stripmall.
When the state expanded the Pennsylvania Convention Center, callously demolishing at least five landmark buildings, it promised an overwhelming demand for hotels we have yet to see. That didn't stop developers from hiring architects to give us an insight into what this could mean for the countless surface lots surrounding the center and City Hall.
An amazing W Hotel was proposed for 12th and Arch. Unfortunately we all know how that turned out.

W Hotel

W Hotel
But that hasn't wavered Starwood's interest in Center City. While a Waldorf-Astoria was once proposed for 15th and Chestnut, today it's the site of Brook Lenfest's W/Element Hotel proposal. At more than 550 feet, it could be the tallest hotel in the city.
Waldorf Astoria
Waldorf Astoria
W/Element Hotel
Around the corner at Broad and Spruce, Carl Dranoff has received approval to begin developing the SLS International Hotel, a hotel and residential complex at the site of Kenny Gamble's Philadelphia International Records. The historic temple to the Philadelphia Sound was destroyed by a fire and will be demolished, and a neighboring vacant lot will be transformed as part of the project.
SLS International Hotel
Developers are finally beginning to dip their toes into the untested water just north of Center City. The success of Tower Place, Goldtex Apartments, and Callowhill's burgeoning Loft District is beginning to prove that this post industrial wasteland is a valuable resource incredibly close to the city's core.
Once considered Franklintown, the corner of 16th and Vine has seen its share of visions, including several incarnations of a proposed Intercontinental Hotel. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, currently developing their temple next to the city's Family Court building, has hired Robert A.M Stern to design a 350 foot apartment tower at 1601 Vine Street. Echoing Stern's 10 Rittenhouse, the classic apartment tower is befitting a lush park. Although it faces the Vine Street Expressway, it also faces unrivaled panoramic views of the Center City skyline.
Apartment tower at 1601 Vine Street
Intercontinental Hotel
LDS Church apartment tower at 1601 Vine Street
Although developers opted for cheap materials at 10 Rittenhouse, using panels of preformed brick, the LDS Church's penchant for quality, knack for working with the city's trade unions, and endless stockpiles of cash, their apartment tower will likely be fit for the grand boulevard Vine Street may one day become, bookended with KlingStubbin's 282 foot Eastern Tower at 9th and Vine.
Chinatown's Eastern Tower
Once the site of Castleway Property's Castleway Tower, Toll Brothers has recently purchased the vacant lot at 1911 Walnut near Rittenhouse Square.

Castleway Tower
Meanwhile in Society Hill, Toll Brothers is prepared to transform the site of H2L2's proposed Stamper Square into something a little more subdued. Although Toll Brothers' development is finely scaled and likely won't ruffle any feathers, it reflects Toll Brothers corporate interest in satisfying their shareholders' bottom line. Simply put, the project is okay.
H2L2's Stamper Square
Toll Brothers' Stamper Square
Carl Dranoff's love for Philadelphia might not be completely visible in his work to date, but with two large projects on the table, it's evident in his ambition and continuous effort to leave his mark on the city. Despite the fact that architecture critic Inga Saffron continues to eviscerate his crown jewel, Symphony House, much of its ills lie in shoddy construction and cheap materials. At the time of its proposal, Symphony House was exciting, a grand apartment complex befitting a bygone era. The renderings showed another tower, one that complemented the Drake. Despite the cost cutting measures that left South Broad with a towering soap opera set, Dranoff's desire to bring luxurious amenities back to Philadelphia's elite is evident in Symphony House's heart.
Dranoff proudly continues to charge headfirst at his criticism, and his passion for Philadelphia's built environment is reflected in his reactions, writing op-ed pieces, while run-of-the-mill developers ignore criticism knowing very well they're only concerned with profit, and building crap. Whether one likes Symphony House or 777 South Broad, Carl Dranoff invests in the city he loves.
One Riverside
Dranoff's One Riverside lacks the creativity or uniqueness of his Broad Street projects but, much to the dismay of park enthusiasts, the heart is in its location. Contrary to what the NIMBYs may say, Cecil Baker & Partners' 294 foot One Riverside won't be burning tomato plants and blocking the sun, just redeveloping an ugly parking lot and offering tenants views of the river and University City's emerging skyline.
Of course One Riverside can't compare to Richard Meier's Mandeville Place, perhaps Philadelphia's greatest architectural loss from the Great Recession. It's 607 feet rose above the Schuylkill River like a sail. 
Mandeville Place
On West Market Street, the vacant lot once meant to be the site of the G. Fred DiBona Jr. Building's twin, 1919 has been untouched since the 90s. Brandywine Realty Trust has proposed Pennoni/Barton Partners' 1919 Market apartment tower at 367 feet, the last in a serious of enumerable proposals.
Finally, in the world of weird, Goldenberg Group has been vetted by several politicos as the choice for the city's second gaming license. If their Market8 Casino is approved and delivers its hotel component, it will exceed 450 feet, redefining Market East's less than desirable image, for better or worse.

Market8 Casino

Of course who can forget, the historic Gimbel's department store was razed for Disney Quest, Disney's failed attempt to bring indoor amusement parks to America's inner cities. While none remain and no renderings were ever delivered to Philadelphia, Chicago's proposal shows us what we would have expected to see at 8th and Market, albeit today, it would be faded and vacant.
Disney Quest


  1. Awesome post! Have you found any realistically forward looking artwork showing the entirety of the skyline a few years from now, incorporating the new LDS Building, the Dranoff properties, the Cira Center expansion, and the next comcast tower?

    1. No, I wish I had better CAD skills myself. It would be really cool to see!

    2. Someone posted this on

    3. Agree!!! Post is great! And all this buildings are great!

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  2. I can remember back in the 80's, when Willy Rouse tore up the gentleman's agreement that held the city back for so long, reading an article in the Inquirer that showed the rush on new towers that were on the horizon. I'm glad some were altered while others slipped away entirely (like 1919 Market).

    Between the identical twins, Dibona Bros, Commerce Square, Liberty Place (originally designed as identical also), Centre Square, Independence Place, and the triplets known as Society Hill Towers, this city was beginning to have more lookalikes than an Elvis convention.

    I love what's happening over in U-City (groundbreaking today!), but am highly disappointed in the Innovation Center. All of the renderings make it look so out of proportion and the only thing making it the tallest is that glow in the dark pencil taped to the end.

    PS: I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds the absurdity in the tomato plant story. It was that line that made me look at everything Inga Suffering wrote and see how much she bends the truth

    1. It's cool to hear a bit of history about the 80s. I only vaguely remember the skyline from when I was a kid, but I remember everything seemed to be the exact same height. The Gentleman's Agreement never really made much sense unless it agreed that everything be significantly shorter than City Hall, like Washington, DC. As it was in the 80s, City Hall's tower got lost in the concrete.

      I do like that the city's height grew when it did. Other cities like Seattle or Chicago are a wall of skyscrapers. Philadelphia's is uniquely three dimensional because of the skyscrapers built before the 80s that stand tall, but much shorter than newer ones.

      I agree with everything you said about the CITC. If the pencil were significantly taller I'd like it better, but as it is it looks like an obvious attempt to grab height. I'm far more excited about the growth taking place in University City. Those additions are going to make the city skyline look epically more vast.