Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Revolution Museum: Good, Not Great

Despite the fact that Philadelphia Art Commission sent Robert Stern back to the drawing board with his lackluster Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia's most prominent architecture critics have been relentless in their criticism of a building that will not exist. I agree Stern's design is bland, but blending in is what Stern does best. He's certainly capable of bold designs, but his initial rendering shouldn't have been unexpected. Considering the hostility from the city's architecture czars, I'm starting to feel a little bad for Stern.

Bradley Maule took to Facebook to call it "bland faux-historic dreck" while Nathaniel Popkin used Hidden City to lightheartedly declare architectural independence, but also called the proposal "utter, enfeebling blandness."

Not Awful

Sure, they're kind of right. It's not an exciting proposal, it's bland, although I'd stop short of calling it "dreck." It's traditional, collegiate architecture that echoes the history of the neighborhood, but it's not bad. It's bland, but it's inviting. I'm not one to say better is always better, but it's worth noting that it is better than the intimidating fortress that stands at 3rd and Chestnut today.

Stern is an academic architect who only occasionally executes something visionary. He academically assessed the context of the location, the content of the collection, and designed a museum that reflects the history of both. What he failed to do was recognize Philadelphians' personal investment in our sacred history and our demand for exciting architecture.

In that regard, most of the museum's criticism is valid...most of it. But Stern will likely consider the critiques and the Commission's request and deliver something new. Meanwhile the same critics have said less about the United States' tallest skyscraper outside New York and Chicago, one that will forever alter Philadelphia's skyline, obsessed with a drawing of a building that will never be.

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