Now that the Historical Commission has ruled in the favor of the Episcopal Cathedral in allowing them to demolish a pair of historically certified 19th century brownstones at 38th and Chestnut Streets (the merits of the “public interest” argument, it seems to me, negligible and entirely malleable, like almost all political rhetoric), it’s time to ask: can we as 21st century Philadelphians build something on that key corner more inspiring, daring, hopeful, and, yes, wonderful, than those doomed brownstones?
Do we have the confidence and vision to create a statement so powerful it might be considered for preservation 150 years on?
So far, the answer appears mixed. What’s imagined for the corner is an ambitious 25-story mixed use retail-office-apartment tower in steel and glass. On the face of it, this is a serious building for a corner that demands scale and density–a corner that can tell a story.
Part of the problem is that we’re not sure what a Philadelphia building for 2015 looks like. This city doesn’t have more than a handful of large scale contemporary buildings to make the heart soar (and only a few more to make it smile).
This project gives us an an opportunity. In the heart of the city’s brain zone, it should be smart enough to dialogue with the cathedral on the one side and eternal possibility on the other (while ignoring the 7-11 across the street). As a work of expression, it should convey movement, progression, and wonder; as a composition it should be dynamic and daring; as a statement, it should mark our place and time in the world.