New Exhibition Gives Movement To The Philadelphia School

 
Was the Philadelphia School a genuine architectural movement led by the gospel of Louis Kahn or was it simply a collection of influential architects bound by their connection to Penn? Two Modernism devotees aim to set the record straight with a new exhibition, “What Was the Philadelphia School?” opening tonight at The Art Gallery in College Hall.

Despite consistent design principles and shared ideological underpinnings, some historians portray the Philadelphia School as a loose coalition of architects without unifying features other than physical proximity and shared academic pedigree. Jason Tang and Izzy Kronblatt, the curators of the exhibition, says that it is time to correct this faulty perception by giving clear definition to the school’s legacy with renewed dialogue.

“We want people to take the Philadelphia School as a movement seriously, rather than just looking at Kahn or VSBA in isolation,” says Tang. “We hope to introduce the view that actually Philadelphia School architects can be understood as having a set of family resemblances, shared ideas, and approaches and tools.”

The exhibit features 50 drawings, paintings, and models of work by Louis Kahn, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Romaldo Giurgola, among others. The co-creators of the exhibit also focus on lesser known buildings to explore the school’s legacy. Work by Scott Erdy and other contemporary projects influenced by the Philadelphia School are featured in the exhibit as well.

“In our telling, Philadelphia School architects saw buildings as complex systems of many parts designed to accomplish a multitude of different things all at once. An interior plan might be understood as a city map, a facade as both a symbolic image and housing for mechanical equipment,” says Tang. “For these architects, the many tensions inherent in making a building work and making it fit in are precisely what make a building interesting. Beauty arises not from blank slate creation, but from laying bare the complexity of the design problem itself–and, of course, the effectiveness of the solution.”

“What Was the Philadelphia School? An Architectural Exhibit” opens to the public tonight with a reception at 6:15PM at The Art Gallery in Philomathean Hall on the 4th floor of College Hall. The exhibition runs March 17 – April 17.

About the author

Michael Bixler is a writer, photographer, and managing editor of Hidden City Daily. He is a former arts and entertainment reporter with Mountain Xpress weekly in Asheville, North Carolina and a native of South Carolina. Bixler has a keen interest in adaptive reuse, underappreciated architecture, contemporary literature and art, and forward-thinking dialogue about people and place. mmbixler.tumblr.com

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1 Comment


  1. Very interesting iteration by Ed Bacon before the Gallery was under construction from May 1974 to August 1977. I had graduated from Gallaudet College in Washington May 1974. Bacon was ahead of the time as both the Reading and the PRR were two separate train companies and ran separate Regional rail lines, one to East Chestnut and the other to West Chestnut. No merger yet with SEPTA which had yet to be formed and was not formed until 1964. I wonder what was Bacon thinking when he came up with this scheme to run a regional rail tube underneath the building. Was he hoping that sense would be beaten into two competing rail companies to combine together to provide improved regional rail service by sharing a common tube? And I wonder what would have happened to the Reading Terminal if Bacon’s design has been chosen with a commuter tube running underneath this line of modernist designed skyscrapers. The incorporation of SEPTA and the merger of commuter rail under SEPTA’s tutelage while paying rent to Amtrak led to the Gallery being constructed and the later incorporation of the commuter tunnel and new station now called Jefferson Station due to corporate sponsorship of Jefferson Hospital after being named Market Street East for three decades after completion in 1984 did create impetus for over a billion dollars worth of new construction in the area. It is good his proposed dream design was not adopted as we have a nice synergy of architecture in the area.

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