render credit: planphilly.com
copy of Center City Digest Fall '08 (discusses plans for ALL of Center City) here: http://www.planphilly.com/sites/plan...Fall08-Web.pdf
Get the Plaza right
September 19, 2009
nice slideshow here: http://www.planphilly.com/node/6579
COMMENTARY / By Kiki Bolender and John Gibbons
The Center City District (CCD) is proposing a complete overhaul of the Dilworth Plaza, the public space to the west of City Hall.
A photo slide show and a three-part video tour of the site accompany this commentary. More detailed analyses of the proposed design are included by John Gibbons, co-chair of the AIA Urban Design Committee, and John Andrew Gallery, Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.
A December 2008 video showing the presentation of the CCD plan to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission is also featured below.
The proposed budget for the renovation work is $40-45 million, with $20 million called for as part of Mayor Nutter’s request for federal economic stimulus funds.
The project was presented to the Art Commission this month and the Planning Commission in December. Approvals are expected this winter, with construction scheduled before the end of the year.
According to CCD President and CEO Paul Levy, three structures are proposed – two along 15th Street – one as a stairway into traffic and the other housing a café and elevator access to the concourse. Both currently will have green roofs. A third smaller structure is contemplated along the north side aligned with a view up the Parkway. A smaller café and elevator access to concourse.
The existing plaza was conceived as a connector between the concourse below and activity on the street level. Transit riders can enter or emerge from the lower level below as it suits their convenience. The proposed new design wipes all that out, replacing a complex series of level changes with a single stair located to reinforce a design idea that is not reflective of natural user patterns.
We need to take a nuanced look at the existing plaza, and see what could be wonderful, and what might be hopelessly ineffective. The south end, with its ponderous granite furnishings and scary space-age fountain, does not appear to have much to recommend it. But the north end has the potential to be a wonderful place, with a sunlit lower level full of moveable chairs and bright umbrellas in the summer, and a skating rink in the winter.
In place of solid granite the proposed design concept would give us a glass sidewalk running almost the entire width of City Hall. Is this a material to stand the rigors of winter and time? Once it is covered with salt in bad weather, will we be able to walk on it? Or will it just be cordoned off, like another forlorn office building plaza? When the sun comes out after the storm, will that glass be beautiful, or will it be scratched and clouded from the salt?
In place of the present imaginative (albeit sometimes strange and foreboding) links between the street and the concourse, the CCD scenario “envisions the complete reconstruction of Dilworth Plaza on the west side of City Hall with a new high-visibility, transparent entrance to public transit …” (Center City: Planning for Growth, Broad Street and City Hall, page 4, April 2007). The two buildings proposed along 15th Street are 100 feet long and the height of a three story row house. The sides are glass, and the roof will be covered with earth for plantings.
City Hall is a treasure – massive, quirky, over abundant in every way. (If you choose the right portal, you are greeted by carved elephants) As you approach it from the west on Market Street, each block reveals more and more of its outlandish width. The proposed pair of buildings would block that revelation, limiting your experience to the prescribed view. Stopped for the traffic light at Market Street, drivers would see transit entrances, not the seat of our government. Are these buildings generous? What do they give us? One replicates in function and type the SEPTA transit escalator enclosure across the street. According to Paul Levy, Executive Director of the CCD, the second is intended to house a café and provide elevator access to the concourse, both requiring solid enclosures within the glass.
Yet another building is proposed for the northwest corner of the site, with another point of elevator access, another café and a roof deck. The extraordinary view up the Parkway would be blocked, available only to those who could afford a seat on the roof. That is a total of three buildings in the plaza, each one blocking views to and from the plaza. Is the City eager to take on these high-maintenance structures? Is it realistic to imagine two cafes thriving in the plaza?