Up Close and Impersonal


A lot of people don’t have much affection for the austere high-rise structures built after WWII. All that raw concrete, steel and glass isn’t exactly warm and inviting, and I admit I made my fair share of jokes about the core buildings on Temple University’s main campus when I was a student there. Yet I’ve come to love buildings like this. Being surrounded by architects helps (I work as the communications director for an architectural nonprofit), and so does photography. There’s something fascinating about breaking these buildings down into geometrical slices. The symmetry…the lines…the shadows–there’s something transformative about viewing a building this way. Often, they cease acting as buildings and become functional abstract art on a grand and highly visible scale.

William J. Green Jr. Federal Building, 76 N. 6th Street


Philadelphia Police Department “Roundhouse” Headquarters, 8th and Race streets


Municipal Services Building, 1401 JFK Boulevard


National Museum of Jewish American History, Fifth and Market Streets


Hopkinson House, 604 S. Washington Square


1515 Arch Street


Eight Penn Center, 1628 JFK Boulevard


1700 Market Street


Four Penn Center, 1600 JFK Boulevard


Parking garage, 11th and Filbert streets


James Aloysius Byrne Federal Courthouse, 6th and Market streets


About the author

Dominic Mercier is a freelance writer, photographer, and graphic designer and Philadelphia native. He is a 2001 graduate of Temple University, where he majored in journalism. He is the former managing editor of Montgomery Newspapers and press officer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He currently serves as the communications director for the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. More of his photographic work can be seen here

Send a message!


  1. Nice work, Dominic. The one of the Hopkinson House completely threw me — I couldn’t place it at all. The one of the Green Federal Building is excellent too.

  2. I’m one of the few Philadelphians who has a fondness for these buildings.

    ps it is Hopkinson House.

  3. Great job Dom. Glad I came and looked at the whole job.

  4. These are great buildings (well most of them) and great photos. No apologies are needed for loving moderism. There is as much study in their proportions as in the finest acanthus!

  5. I’ve spent an abnormal amount of time photographing buildings all over town and the post-war/Brutalist creations are much like the city they call home in that they require some amount of effort to really enjoy. They don’t wow you with any particular styling or details at first and work very well as abstract objects. They certainly have a place in a cityscape but having a city full of them is like a diet consisting chiefly of Doritos – plenty of flavor, little substance.

    Your photographs do them justice. Philadelphians aren’t particularly given to looking up much (which is actually a good thing) but if we were we’d often be disappointed by what we saw. Seeing some buildings as you depict them here gives them a certain grace an untrained eye may not be able to discern.

  6. Thanks for all the kind words, folks!


  1. Architectural Abstractions
  2. Dominic Mercier | Photography » Blog Archive » Ugly Ducklings

Leave a Reply

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

Recent Posts
In Sharswood, Effort To Save Dox Thrash House Gains Momentum

In Sharswood, Effort To Save Dox Thrash House Gains Momentum

March 20, 2018  |  News

As modern urban renewal continues to erase African-American history in North Philly, one group works against the odds to preserve a renowned Philadelphia artist's legacy. Starr Herr-Cardillo has the story > more

New 40th Street Trolley Portal Design Dull On Arrival

New 40th Street Trolley Portal Design Dull On Arrival

March 19, 2018  |  Vantage

University City District's beautification of the 40th Street Trolley Portal was high on concept, but appears to have fumbled on delivery. Contributor Ann de Forest has the full review > more

Confusion And Quibbling At Mayor's Preservation Task Force Meeting

Confusion And Quibbling At Mayor’s Preservation Task Force Meeting

March 15, 2018  |  News

Mayor Kenney's Historic Preservation Task Force convened today following the release of a draft of a summary of summaries on the state of preservation in Philadelphia. Logistical bickering and sticker activities ensued. Starr Herr-Cardillo reports > more

Remembering Philly's 1967 School Walkout & The Attack On Teen Activism

Remembering Philly’s 1967 School Walkout & The Attack On Teen Activism

March 13, 2018  |  Vantage

On the eve of the national student walkout honoring the victims of the Parkland shooting, Michael Bixler takes a look back at November 17, 1967 when teenage activists demonstrating for equal rights became the target of a violent police attack > more

Oscar's Tavern Still Parties Like It's 1972

Oscar’s Tavern Still Parties Like It’s 1972

March 12, 2018  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow saddles up to the bar at Oscar's Tavern where the spirit of "Old Philadelphia" is as effervescent as their lagers > more

Back When We Burned Trash On The Delaware River

Back When We Burned Trash On The Delaware River

March 9, 2018  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. takes us on a whirlwind exploration of Philadelphia's notorious garbage problem, starting with the long-gone East Central Incinerator at Penn's Landing and then sailing around the globe before returning to today's trashy situation > more