Thanks, Frank

There’s Save Your Vision Week and National Forest Products Week and Banned Books Week (and about five dozen others). Here at the Daily, we decided to create another: this is Frank Furness’s week and we’re celebrating.

For me, it started with Frank. In 1989, I took George Thomas’s iconic Penn class on Furness, the point of which was to explore social and economic history through the lens of architecture, taste, and identity. It was there I learned that one can read history in the built environment. One can read culture, personality, desire, and ambition too.

One of the key themes of the class was the complicated way in which Furness was a product of and a reaction to the Philadelphia of his youth, and the way he wished, in turn, to shape the city. Like any man–even Robert Moses in New York–Furness’s power was limited. In his own lifetime, tastes changed (as they did for Moses). He fell behind, only at the end adjusting to the new neo-classicism with the design of the Girard Bank on Broad Street (now the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel).

But Furness in his prime was a man of vast imagination, determination, and vision. The very fact that we can read his personality in his buildings is an argument for a vigorous architecture today. If we fail, and continue our blind pursuit of architectural imitation, we fail to tell our own story. Or worse perhaps, the story is our own lack of imagination and confidence.

Furness lacked for neither. Nor for moral backbone, nor artistic clarity. This week, as we celebrate Furness’s 172nd birthday with a series of articles by Paul VanMeter, PhilaPhilia, Peter Woodall, Dan Cox, and Justin Detweiler, and with a birthday party and celebration Saturday night, we ought to take inspiration from his example.

About the author

Nathaniel Popkin is co-founder of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (with Peter Woodall and Joseph E.B. Elliott) and two novels, Everything is Borrowed and Lion and Leopard. He is co-editor of Who Will Speak for America, an anthology forthcoming in June 2018, and the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Op-ed: Balance Lost Buildings With Those Saved In 2018

Op-ed: Balance Lost Buildings With Those Saved In 2018

January 15, 2019  |  Soapbox

Paul Steinke of the Preservation Alliance offers a counterpoint to our Lost Buildings of 2018 list with this opinion piece > more

Jefferson Makes Room For Modernism With New Preservation Program

Jefferson Makes Room For Modernism With New Preservation Program

January 4, 2019  |  News

Jefferson University brings Modernist architecture to the forefront with their new historic preservation program and center for studies. Michael Bixler has the news > more

House Museum In North Philly Plans Monument For Former Slave

House Museum In North Philly Plans Monument For Former Slave

January 3, 2019  |  Vantage

Stenton, the former plantation house in Logan, prepares to honor Dinah with their new project, Inequality in Bronze. Keshler Thibert has the details > more

Lost Buildings of 2018

Lost Buildings of 2018

December 27, 2018  |  News

Philadelphia's preservation crisis reached a critical high in 2018 with a record-breaking number of demolition permits approved by the City. Here we highlight some of the biggest loses to our built environment in our annual end-of-year list > more

Having A Good One This Holiday Season In Philadelphia

Having A Good One This Holiday Season In Philadelphia

December 21, 2018  |  Last Light

Seasons Greetings from Hidden City! Michael Bixler dives deep into the archives and brings back a bounty of Philly holiday cheer > more

Best Architecture, Urban Design, & Public Art Of 2018

Best Architecture, Urban Design, & Public Art Of 2018

December 20, 2018  |  Vantage

It was a banner year for architecture, art, adaptive reuse, and design. JoAnn Greco shines a light on Philly's best projects of 2018 > more