At Drexel, Knocking Down The Fortress Door

Papadakis Building. drexelmasterplan

Editor’s Note: This article is drawn from a “Crossing the Lines” post, found HERE.

Take a look at Drexel’s three newest buildings: the recently-opened Papadakis Integrated Sciences Center, and the forthcoming LeBow and American Campus Communities buildings. All three share common characteristics: white stone façades, combined with strongly formal Modernism; Papadakis and LeBow also share vertical windows and accents.

LeBow building. drexelmasterplan / Robert A.M. Stern

These are elements associated with a late 1950s through 1970s design style called Brutalism, responsible for some of the ugliest buildings today marring our city: at least one blog devotes a weekly column to such buildings. Rare is the Brutalist masterpiece–perhaps only Louis Kahn and I.M. Pei successfully made it work. Worse still, the social upheaval of the 1960s bought a new design emphasis on securitization; these structures were quite literally fortresses of concrete.

New 3200 Chestnut Render. drexelmasterplan / MSC

To say a building is Brutalist implies that it is either passively or actively unsightly.

But look closer. While much Brutalism relied on the fortress metaphor–overscaled, antihuman, and intimidating–at the street level, these projects are very different. Walls of glass. Multiple sidewalk uses. Eye-catching details at the pedestrian level. These buildings look Brutalist, but hardly are, in a certain sense. It is as if Drexel is knocking down the fortress door.

Together, these buildings will make an excellent counterpoint to the upper campus’ avant-gardism, manifested most strongly in the Daskalakis annex and Erdy-McHenry’s Race Street and Millennium Halls. Moreover, Brutalism was always at its best when realized in limestone, which lends an aura of gravitas to whatever style it’s used for, from Beaux-Arts classicism to Art Deco ornamental modernism and on to midcentury Moderne–and finally Brutalism. This dignity is fully appropriate for a campus heart, and contrasts charmingly with the upper campus’ Bauhausian playfulness–but quite poorly with the ugly and increasingly dated original academic orange-bricked Brutalist buildings that have defined Drexel’s style for so long.

About the author

Stephen Stofka is interested in the urban form and the way we change it. A graduate of the Geography and Urban Studies program at Temple University, he enjoys examining the architecture, siting, streetscapes, transportation, access, and other subtle elements that make a city a city.

Send a message!



2 Comments


  1. That 3200 chestnut plan is horrendously awful. I think I’d rather have the orange brick crud that’s already there. They should have placed it on the 3001 block of chestnut or the 3101 block of market. They can afford it.

    • I agree 3200 Chestnut is hardly handsome–it has a Centre Square-ish look to me–but interactiveness at the street is a more primary determinant of urbanism. (Centre Square is urban; the MSB is not.) And frankly, that lawn was boring and I do not believe much used by students.

      One thing I do note for sure is that the ugliness of the orange brick is amplified by the new limestone concoctions going up.

Trackbacks

  1. Brutalism and Ugly Architecture – Thomas A. Shakely
Recent Posts
Verizon’s Suburban “Station Domination”

Verizon’s Suburban “Station Domination”

January 26, 2015  |  Morning Blend

SEPTA signs $7 million deal with Verizon, and announces realtime ETA system; bike lanes up 13% over eight years; and good eyes on Sansom > more

With Ice And Coal Building's Murals Gone, Is Italian Market Development Coming?

With Ice And Coal Building’s Murals Gone, Is Italian Market Development Coming?

January 26, 2015  |  Vantage

The community mural wall at 9th and Ellsworth is all but a gray-washed memory today. A barrier for the empty lot where the Ice And Coal building once stood, it stands a fine example of artists pitching it to tackle urban blight. Daniel Shurley takes us down to South 9th Street, where plans for a Business Improvement District, and possibly a new, creative life for the wall, are currently in the works > more

Furness Church Escapes Demolition, Will Be Reused For School Space

Furness Church Escapes Demolition, Will Be Reused For School Space

January 23, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Penn professor preserves Episcopal Church of the Atonement, a remnant from the early days of the Lincoln Highway, SOSNA considered Washington Ave mixed use, and some "Vintage Vaudeville" on display at the Barnes > more

J.T. Riley Lumberyard Yields To Mixed-Use Development

J.T. Riley Lumberyard Yields To Mixed-Use Development

January 23, 2015  |  News

Big development plans are in motion for the former site of J.T. Riley Lumberyard on East Girard Avenue. A leader of the lumber industry for over a century, the recently closed location in Northern Liberties-Fishtown will soon give way to modern apartments and retail space > more

Gray Area: The Future Of

Gray Area: The Future Of “30th Street Station”

January 22, 2015  |  News

In August, the President's signature enacted a law that renamed 30th Street Station for former Congressman Bill Gray. So does that mean we should expect a blitz of Amtrak marketing announcing the change like SEPTA did with "Jefferson Station?" Not exactly, if the new sign facing Center City is any indication. Brad Maule rides the rails to find out > more

Comcast To Monopolize Office Space In Next Skyscraper

Comcast To Monopolize Office Space In Next Skyscraper

January 22, 2015  |  Morning Blend

David Cohen speaks at Union League, Francophilia in mid-nineteenth century Philadelphia architecture, chaperoned “urbexing” in the old Thaddeus Stevens school, and development delays for one South Philadelphia restaurant > more