With production levels at an all time high, Philadelphia’s rumor mill might have just earned itself a prize: a Pritzker Prize. While rumors abound regarding Liberty Property Trust’s plans at 18th & Arch for the growing Comcast empire—and how big they plan to build it—one thing is for certain: if it’s built, its architect will be Foster + Partners.
Based in London, Foster + Partners is helmed by Norman Foster, Baron Foster of Thames Bank, the 1999 recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The foremost of English architects, he designed the Millennium Bridge, Wembley Stadium, and 30 St Mary Axe (“The Gherkin”), all in London in the early 2000s. His firm also crafted the tallest bridge in the world, France’s Millau Viaduct, completed in 2004. Prior to that, his Commerzbank Tower in Frankfurt, opened 1997, was the tallest building in Europe for nearly a decade, and his HSBC Building was part of wave of skyscrapers that defined Hong Kong’s skyline when it opened in 1985. His Two World Trade Center, arguably the most attractive of the WTC replacement buildings in New York, is under construction.
In short, Foster is an enormous name to add to our own growing skyline and a big get for Liberty Property Trust, the company who has already redefined the Philly skyline twice. Then called Rouse & Associates, their One Liberty Place famously shattered the gentlemen’s agreement when it was announced in 1983 and handed William Penn his hat in 1987. Its Chrysler-esque blue chevrons, designed by Helmut Jahn, were then bested by Robert A.M. Stern’s Comcast Center, which Liberty opened in 2008.
Five years later, its primary tenant needs more space. A lot of it. Comcast Center has been at full capacity almost since it opened, Comcast themselves have leased out space in other Center City buildings, and there’s that side item of Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal. Certainly no one expects NBC to leave 30 Rock or anyone to ever exclaim “live from Philadelphia, it’s Saturday night,” but as a growing conglomerate in both the creation and delivery of content, the need for office space is a definite.
Six months after Comcast purchased the majority share in NBCUniversal in January 2011, Liberty Property Trust purchased the lot at 1800 Arch from Hill International. (Comcast completed their NBCU purchase in February of this year.) Liberty also owns the lot on the northwest corner of 19th & Arch, as well as the corner lot next to Comcast Center at 18th & JFK that’s long been a part of the Stern complex, a shorter building which mimics One Penn Center (Suburban Station).
If completed, Foster + Partners’ Comcast building would bring the 1800 Arch site full circle. In 1892, with City Hall still under construction four blocks away, Philadelphia’s earliest steel frame building rose for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (later, Y.W.C.A.). The nine-story structure, designed by church architect Benjamin Price, stood until 1980, when it was demolished for the parking lot that remains today.
Various proposals for the lot have come down the pike, including a parking garage, an eight-story mall, a Bower Lewis Thrower designed residential tower for Interpark, and most notably, Hill International’s American Commerce Center. Kohn Pederson Fox designed the city’s would-be tallest building, a mixed-use complex with a hotel, cinema, shops, and offices rising 1,500′ to a spire.
When asked for comment, Foster + Partners referred all questions to Liberty Property Trust. Liberty, likewise, had no comment.
Until they do speak and an official announcement is made, let the speculation continue.