In a strong sign that Philadelphia real estate developers are beginning to find market value in bold design and in creating social spaces, a $100 million 14 story residential “unapologetically contemporary” tower is advancing on 12th Street and East Montgomery Avenue adjacent to Temple University’s campus. The building is part of a multi-phase development by the Goldenberg Group of the block that was home to the Wanamaker Middle School, which closed in 2005. Future phases of the project, potentially starting in 2015, will build out the edges of the remaining two and a half acres of the block to create a strong connection to the street and an open courtyard inside.
“From the beginning of this project, Ken Goldenberg was saying, ‘I won’t build it if it’s not cutting edge’,” said Goldenberg director of development Kevin Trapper. “This project is not just about maximizing real estate but about the transformative nature of development we do. We take this to heart.”
Goldenberg acquired the site in 2008 in collaboration with Bright Hope Baptist Church’s Bridge of Hope Community Development Corporation, which will receive proceeds from the project. The developer initially examined potential reuses for the Wanamaker School, but found they couldn’t make efficient or economically viable use of the post-War building.
The tower, which was designed by Antonio Fiol-Silva, a principal architect at the firm Wallace Roberts and Todd, is one a spate of privately developed apartment buildings for university students at Temple, Penn, and Drexel that are meant to complement on campus housing. At both Drexel and Temple, schools transforming their campuses from commuter to residential, demand for housing on or near campus is growing rapidly. “The campus is transforming from drive up, run into class, and run back to your car kind of a place. That’s an exciting change,” said Trapper. The Wanamaker project, which will open in fall 2014, is going up as Temple completes a 1,275 bed residential tower of its own a few blocks away.
Both of those towers, observers say, will substantially improve housing standards available to Temple students. Just as critically, they amount to a substantial upgrade in the quality of architectural materials and ideas about urban living.
“It’s a structure that needs to speak to students looking for places that are exciting–that have a pulse,” said Fiol-Silva, who is also the architect of the nearby residential development Paseo Verde and of the Live Arts Festival building at Delaware Avenue and Race Street.
A key to appealing to young people, said Fiol-Silva, is the ability of the building, which is fractured into two sections and pulled off the sidewalk on an angle by as much as 40 feet, to draw people into its social spaces, creating “an almost festive place.” In addition to 238 apartments for 832 residents, the tower will have 1,100 square feet of retail, including restaurants–none inked yet–with terraces and outdoor seating. In fitting with WRT’s multidisciplinary design practice, Fiol-Silva is an urban designer and a planner. He said WRT has paid careful attention to landscape design and “how the building meets the ground.”
A “cloud” of metal lattice will draw people into the building, “back to front, inside and out,” he said.
But the biggest draw, the architect thinks, is the strong use of color–in this case red–on the building’s aluminum composite facade. “How do you evoke Temple’s trademark color and create something fresh, unapologetically colorful, unapologetically contemporary?” After completing some 100 color studies–Fiol-Silva said that at various stages in design the building has been many different colors and monochromatic–the choice of gradations of red “tips its hat, making a playful association to Temple. It’s Temple but it’s not Temple. It’s looser, more free spirited.”
About the author
Nathaniel Popkin is the co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and co-producer and senior script editor of the documentary film series "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment." He's the author of Song of the City: An Intimate Portrait of the American Urban Landscape and The Possible City: Exercises in Dreaming Philadelphia.