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
Exhibit To Resuscitate Shuttered Fairhill Classroom

Exhibit To Resuscitate Shuttered Fairhill Classroom

April 27, 2015  |  Morning Blend

The restoration of a classroom in North Philly, the DRWC anticipates a full summer of work on reconnecting Philly to the Delaware, the economic draw of the Mall, and vetting regional hotel rooms for the 2016 DNC > more

A Slim And Sturdy Survivor On Race Street

A Slim And Sturdy Survivor On Race Street

April 27, 2015  |  The Shadow Knows

The attractively slender, condo-converted factory at Race and Orianna Streets is a testament to resilience. Multiple industrial renovations, fire, and prolonged vacancy has kept the former Saxe Paper Company building on its toes for over a century. The Shadow gives us a nickel tour inside this brick beauty's history > more

Illegally Built Apartments Point To Another Failure From L&I

Illegally Built Apartments Point To Another Failure From L&I

April 24, 2015  |  Morning Blend

Off-campus Temple apartments raise yet more questions as to the purview of L&I, highlights from the Indego launch, derelict East Falls home being demolished, Japanese culture on display on the Hill, and Postgreen to celebrate at open house for new South Kensington project > more

Photography Exhibition Captures The Spirit Of Kensington's Sacred Places

Photography Exhibition Captures The Spirit Of Kensington’s Sacred Places

April 23, 2015  |  Buzz

Nineteenth century neighborhood churches share the spotlight this Friday in Joseph B. Elliott's photography exhibition, "Preserving the Story: An Event to Celebrate Kensington’s Sacred Places" > more

Toward An Inclusive Revival Of Mayfair’s Frankford Ave

Toward An Inclusive Revival Of Mayfair’s Frankford Ave

April 23, 2015  |  Morning Blend

A bottom-top approach toward a BID, developers to explain their Spruce Hill mixed-use to residents, PHL expansion deal reached with neighbors, and life on Elfreth’s Alley > more

With Council Introducing Gallery Redevelopment Bills, We Examine PREIT's Plan

With Council Introducing Gallery Redevelopment Bills, We Examine PREIT’s Plan

April 23, 2015  |  News

What's the economics behind the outlet mall concept? Will the Gallery remain a public place? Is PREIT offering transformative architecture? Nathaniel Popkin examines the project and files this report > more