On Revolution Museum, Readers Have Spoken

 

DECLARATION THUMB

When I posted “A Declaration of Architectural Independence” on Change.org as a petition (which you can read at the bottom of this article), the idea was to show the members of the Philadelphia Art Commission that people really did care about the design of the Museum of the American Revolution and about contemporary architecture in Philadelphia in general. Architecture isn’t, broadly speaking, a hot topic, certainly compared to poverty, war, or environmental degradation, but in this case it was married to two things that matter a great deal to people: the American Revolution and the image and reality of Philadelphia. The design, as so many of you have said in comments on the petition, leaves both terribly wanting.

So what’s at stake here? The opportunity for people to be drawn into and connect with the complex story of the American Revolution. A dud of a building won’t accomplish that. The opportunity to project Philadelphia as a dynamic, forward looking place not at all bound by the 18th century.

But you all have said it best. As I deliver the petition, with its 238+ signees–one for every year since 1776–I wanted to publish some of those statements here. They are heartfelt, incisive, and most of all infected with a love for this city–what it is and what it might become. The museum, in its current design, fails us in this regard and it fails to meet the spirit of the Revolution, too.

Chestnut Street facade, proposed Museum of the American Revolution | Robert A.M. Stern Architects

Chestnut Street facade, proposed Museum of the American Revolution | Robert A.M. Stern Architects

Ron Emrich
“As a lifelong preservationist, I have always embraced and advocated for good design that is both respectful of context and representative of its own era. The present design is an abomination.”

Kiki Bolender
“As a free female citizen of the Commonwealth, ennobled in 1920 by the right to vote, known by registration as an architect in the Commonwealth yea these many years, it is my obligation to speak up in defense of the Revolution.”

Dan Shurley (disclosure: a Hidden City contributor)
“A museum commemorating a revolution that restructured American society should be forward-looking and bold in design, not frozen in a nostalgic, diluted historic memory.”

Joseph Russell
“This is the most bland building plan in Philadelphia, and a disgrace to the enormity of the American revolution.”

Sharon Ann Holt
“I support the Art Commission’s brave leadership in insisting on a building design worthy of the importance of the American Revolution. Thank heavens somebody stood up. I stand with them.”

James Dorria
“At a time in our nation’s history when education is suffering and assaults on the basic freedoms so dear to our founders have reached new depths, we should not be consigning our revolutionary history, and its power to inspire and illuminate, to a tomb.”

Robert Deseda
“These historic bastardizations only show the world that we are a nation that sees more value in our past than in our future.”

James Phillips
“The cheap knockoff design of this building does not do the original colonial style of architecture, the city, the urban fabric of the neighborhood or anyone who visits justice. The design is cheap and the materials are cheap. A museum with a mission such as the Museum of the American Revolution should be a world class building, and as the design stands, it will not be.”

Caleb Benjamin
“This design would be funny had that actually been the intention. But since that was not the intention it’s just pathetic.”

Tom Stewart
“Buildings endure for generations — especially buildings of civic importance. A new museum chronicling the birthplace of the nation must not be designed as if its still the late 1700s. A more suitable and courageous act would be to commission a new structure that celebrates how far we have come since 1776; good contemporary architecture can and must show this growth in the physical expression of the building. In other words — Philly, don’t bore us with what will certainly be an awfully adapted version of the impossible-to-improve-upon Independence Hall.”

Andrew Terranova
“It is an honor to be the home city of the National Museum of the American Revolution, so let’s make it PERFECT and one of Philadelphia’s star attractions. America deserves it.”

Claire Noyes
“The first Museum of the American Revolution should reflect the importance of the revolution and not look like a gussied up civil engineering project (ie water pumping station).”

Skip Schwarzman
“We should not be creating ersatz historical buildings, à la Disney, but focusing on creating new amalgams of our history and modern thinking, and having that illuminating juxtaposition reflected in the architecture of our museums.”

David Bender
“Philadelphia has REAL classic architecture – unless this museum is going to be designed and built in the traditional style and with traditional materials and methods, I’d rather see a REVOLUTIONARY design in keeping with the spirit of the actual revolution!”

Jeremy Robertson
“No more fakes! This is supposed to be a monumental institution, representing the birth of the boldest political experiment of its time.”

Rendering: Robert A.M. Stern Architects

Rendering: Robert A.M. Stern Architects

George Thomas
“Right on, no more pathetic nostalgic garbage in Frank Furness’s, William L. Price’s, George Howe’s, Lou Kahn’s, Robert Venturi’s and Denise Scott Brown’s city. And Ben Franklin ‘s too!”

Victoria Harris
“I think Philadelphia is a world class city that deserves inspiring architecture. The design as it stands is so boring and is so bad for people walking by it makes it seem like Philadelphia can’t do anything with gusto. This is a building that is housing a museum to the war that changed democracy and the course of world history and I think that the sense of awe and gravitas of the war should be apparent to somebody on the street as well as to people on the inside.”

Chris Urban
“This museum should incite reaction, invoke emotion, and embed memory. It should not dissolve in the fabric of McMansion-like buildings we already have too many of.”

Peggy Hartzell
“This should be a living , breathing, green building design in respect to the future generations as well as to the wisdom of founding fathers and mothers. I would imagine that the Oneida Nation might also support a green building.”

Jonathan Schmalzbach
“Bland signals boring. Even as a 6 year old I intuited the Visitor Center would be dull from its design — and I was right. The signal event of US History deserves originality commensurate with that singular generation. Instead, we have an insipid, uninspired — non-Revolutionary fraud.”

Lauren Leonard
“Design should be alive, dynamic, engaging. It should be, well, revolutionary. Think fireworks…”

Bill Brookover
“The museum’s mission and location are too important to be housed in such an uninviting, bland building. The architects should rise to the occasion and build something great!”

declaration

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



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