Like so many critiques on Penn Center and urban renewal itself, opinions on the life’s work of Vincent G. Kling draw mixed results. One of Philadelphia’s most enduring architects, Kling quietly passed away in November. For someone whose legacy is so visible across the city and region, from Penn Center and Love Park to Lankenau Hospital, it seems strange to me that this wasn’t bigger news—that there was no Inga Saffron obituary, nor even a statement from KlingStubbins, the firm bearing his name with offices across the US and China. In fact, I only learned of it when my co-editor Peter Woodall sent me a link over the weekend to AIA Philadelphia’s news story.
Like his long time collaborator Ed Bacon, Kling studied architecture at Cornell University. After enlisting and serving in the Navy during World War II, he worked briefly for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, still the gold standard of architecture firms. In a way, he modeled his own firm after SOM, eventually branching it out into different departments, including landscaping, interiors, and engineering, the latter led by Fred Lindquist, who Kling sought out and whose name for a time shared space on the company marquee, Kling-Lindquist. The firm grew to become the largest in Philadelphia, a feat whose evidence remains across the region, but most apparent at Penn Center.
As the principal architect of Penn Center’s development, Kling worked closely with planner Ed Bacon on his vision of modernizing the city through the replacement of Broad Street Station and the Chinese Wall on massive swaths of land owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad. As Greg Heller writes in his comprehensive biography Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics, and the Building of Modern Philadelphia, Bacon passed over Louis Kahn and Oscar Stonorov, among others, for his selection of Kling:
“Bacon and Kling met at a dinner function hosted by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, where a model of Kling’s design for Lankenau Hospital was on display. Bacon was impressed with Kling’s design sense and his skill as a model maker. However, Kling also had other, perhaps more important qualities, namely, that he was close with several members of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s board of directors and was already doing some architectural work for the railroad.”
The Penn Center period ultimately defines the career of Vincent Kling. Though the vision for sleek towers and subterranean causeways seemed like the future then, its execution often turned out lackluster, leaving us with the just-okay buildings of the Penn Center complex and Centre Square. And for all the starts and restarts, the underground concourses are still depressing; look at the corner of 16th & JFK, for example, where Barbara Grygutis’ 2006 sculpture Lifelines tried breathing new life into what might be a decent lunch spot; instead, it stays on the other side of always-locked doors, peppered with litter.
Kling retired in 1989, but not before having a hand in the Bell Atlantic Tower, the elegant granite tower at 18th & Arch now called Three Logan Square. Opened in 1991, it’s still the tallest building in the city designed by a Philadelphia architect. His firm continued on as Kling-Lindquist into the 2000s, when it began an affiliation with Stubbins Associates, founded by Kling contemporary Hugh Stubbins, designer of New York’s Citigroup Center and the Yokohama Landmark Tower, still the tallest building in Japan. Locally, Stubbins’ name was attached to Veterans Stadium in South Philadelphia as a consulting architect with local architect George M. Ewing Company. The year after Stubbins’ death in 2006, the firm officially became KlingStubbins.
(CORRECTION: Stubbins had previously been listed as architect of The Vet; he was brought on as a consultant after the initial design came from Philadelphia’s George M. Ewing Company.)
Collectively, the firm brought about plans for the never built Center City Tower, designed to attract Comcast before they signed on at what became Comcast Center. The erstwhile supertall (1000’+) skyscraper was once the site of One Meridian Plaza, the tower destroyed by fire in 1991 also designed by Kling. The W Hotel is now planned for the would-be Center City Tower site at 15th & Chestnut. KlingStubbins also drew up plans for the Castleway Tower on the large parcel of vacant land across Walnut Street from Rittenhouse Square. Natalie Kostelni reported recently that Toll Bros is eying the plot for their own residential development.
Kling lived the last years of his life quietly in Montgomery County. His legacy, as evidenced by the long (and certainly incomplete) list of projects below, will forever keep his name in Philadelphia’s history books, largely aside Ed Bacon’s. But it’s his work at Penn Center, with drab office buildings, impervious plazas, and exposed underground pedestrian walkways that didn’t work, that most will think of first. Given his body of work, that’s unfortunate, but there’s a reason Dilworth Plaza is getting an expensive makeover and Penn Center is a ghost town after rush hour. However, the Greenfield School is one of the School District of Philadelphia’s shining spots, Foerderer Pavilion remains at the heart of Thomas Jefferson University’s ever expanding campus, and Love Park stays one of Philly’s most beloved spots for locals and tourists alike, in spite of Christmas Villages that take up way too much space and ridiculous ideas like circling it with a ring of restaurants. In fact, in 2002 when Mayor Street banned skateboarding and allotted money to Love Park’s reconfiguration, Kling joined in protest with Bacon, who famously donned a helmet and skateboarded at 92 years old.
Vincent G. Kling died on November 23, 2013, at the age of 97.
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Selected Philadelphia works of Vincent G. Kling:
• Lankenau Hospital (1953)
• Two Penn Center (1953)
• Thomas Jefferson University Foerderer Pavilion (1955)
• Transportation Building, a.k.a. Seven Penn Center, now the Morgan, Bockius & Lewis Building (1957) (Ellsworth Kelly’s Transportation Building Lobby Sculpture installed same year)
• Greyhound Bus Terminal (1957, demolished 1980s, now BNY Mellon Center, a.k.a. Nine Penn Center)
• Municipal Services Building (1963) (Dexter Jones’ golden City Seal installed above entrance in 1966; Jacques Lipchitz’ Government of the People on the plaza in 1976; the array of game pieces Your Move in 1996; and the larger-than-life Frank Rizzo statue by Zenos Frudakis was unveiled in 1998)
• IBM Tower, a.k.a. Six Penn Center (1965)
• Philadelphia Stock Exchange Building, now Sofitel (1965)
• Philadelphia Mint (1969)
• Five Penn Center, now 1601 Market (1970)
• Albert M. Greenfield School (1970)
• Annenberg Center (1971)
• One Meridian Plaza (1972, destroyed 1991, demolished 1999)
• Dilworth Plaza (1972, demolished 2013)
• JFK Plaza/Love Park (1972)
• Centre Square towers (1973) (Jean Dubuffet’s Milord La Chamere installed the same year, Claes Oldenburg’s Clothespin in 1976)
• Bell Atlantic Tower (1991)
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For additional information on Kling’s life, see the following:
AIA Philadelphia: In Memoriam: Vincent G. Kling, FAIA
Bryn Mawr College: Vincent Kling and the Penn Center: Urban Renewal in Philadelphia
Philadelphia Architects and Buildings project: Vincent George Kling