Growing Tower, Growing Skyline

May 14, 2014 | by Bradley Maule


A view into the near future at Cira Centre South | Rendering courtesy of Brandywine Realty Trust and Pelli Clarke Pelli

A view into the near future at Cira Centre South | Rendering courtesy of Brandywine Realty Trust and Pelli Clarke Pelli

“I don’t know who’s running the city, ’cause all the important people are here,” District Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said to a laughing crowd eager to wrap up the long list of speakers on hand to mark the groundbreaking of FMC Tower.

The skyscraper, the southern end of University City’s Cira Centre complex that extends north through the first Cira Centre tower, was officially announced as FMC Tower in October, a 47-story, 650′ building. In a media advisory earlier this week, the building’s dimensions had grown to 49 stories and 690′; at today’s event, which Brandywine Realty Trust CEO Jerry Sweeney described as “not a traditional groundbreaking, but a cultivation event,” the official figures reached 49 stories and 730′. That would make it eight feet shorter than the Bell Atlantic Tower—also owned by Brandywine, who has renamed it Three Logan Square—to make it sixth-tallest in the city. Of course by its completion two years from now, the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center—referenced as another indicator of the city’s visible growth by several of the day’s speakers including Sweeney, Mayor Michael Nutter, and University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann—will have bumped it down to seventh.

Seriously, it's gonna look like this | Rendering courtesy of Brandywine Realty Trust and Pelli Clarke Pelli

Seriously, it’s gonna look like this | Rendering courtesy of Brandywine Realty Trust and Pelli Clarke Pelli

At any rate, FMC Tower is huge. It’s not only 730′ tall, it’s 730′ tall at 30th & Walnut—on a subtle bend of the Schuylkill River where the view is unimpeded across to the Schuylkill Banks, Penn Park, and the classic skyline view, the South Street Bridge.

As new renderings show, that positioning won’t make it simply a part of the skyline, it will make it the skyline’s starting point.

Introducing his lead tenant, Sweeney described the tower’s place on the skyline, saying specifically of the FMC sign at its crown, “it will feature prominently when they pan the skyline on Sunday Night Football when the Eagles are winning.” Taking the stage, FMC CEO Pierre Brondeau said in his thick French accent somewhat believably, “I can’t wait for that football night.”

Brondeau also did the audience the favor of describing exactly who FMC is. Called a “quiet giant” by the Inquirer’s Chris Hepp on Monday, FMC started as a spray pump company in California in 1883; a vintage pump was used to raise a banner revealing the FMC Tower logo at the ceremony today. Later the Food Machinery Corporation (FMC), the company expanded throughout the 20th Century to manufacture a range of products from amphibious vehicles for the defense department to agricultural solutions. One of their current products, soda ash for glass, will go into the exterior skin of the tower—a building showcasing the company’s product much like Rohm & Haas at Sixth & Market and the US Steel, Alcoa, and PPG buildings in Pittsburgh.

Architect César Pelli (center) chats with Penn President Amy Gutmann and Brandywine CEO Jerry Sweeney | Photo: Bradley Maule

Architect César Pelli (center) chats with Penn President Amy Gutmann and Brandywine CEO Jerry Sweeney | Photo: Bradley Maule

Architect César Pelli, whose Pelli Clarke Pelli firm designed the tower with Philadelphia’s BLTa, seemed downright giddy. Sporting longish hair and a goatee, the 87-year-old legend, whose lifelong portfolio includes Kuala Lumpur’s once-tallest-in-the-world Petronas Towers, Hong Kong’s Two International Finance Centre (that city’s tallest building from 2003-10), and New York’s World Financial Center (built to complement the twin towers of the World Trade Center on New York’s skyline), said, “the sun has been shining on me and shining on Philadelphia. [With this,] Center City and University City become one—the Schuylkill River will just be an event in the middle, like the Seine [River in Paris].”

Speaking to the blue book audience of dignitaries, developers, architects, and academics, Mayor Nutter said, “the only thing better than a groundbreaking is a ribbon cutting,” expected to take place in 2016.

FMC Tower from Penn Park | Rendering courtesy of Brandywine Realty Trust and Pelli Clarke Pelli

FMC Tower from Penn Park | Rendering courtesy of Brandywine Realty Trust and Pelli Clarke Pelli

Like the first Cira Centre, opened in 2005, FMC Tower transforms its shape depending on one’s perspective. From the east and west, the tower’s sharp angular cuts heavily recall the first Cira for a slender profile. From the south—especially from the ramp leading up to Walnut Street from Penn Park and from the South Street Bridge lookouts—the wider form accentuates the building’s height even more. A modest curve on the south façade will create a tonal gradient and sunset glint surely to be the subject of many a photograph. At ground level, the glass façade is raised to reveal support columns and emphasize the building entrances in the same manner Evo does next door. That 33-story, 430′ tower, designed by Erdy McHenry Architects (whose principals Scott Erdy and David McHenry were in attendance), is topped out and nearing completion. Between the two, the one-acre Cira Green will place an elevated park atop the massive parking garage already situated between Walnut and Chestnut, 29th and 30th.

FMC Corporation’s 16-year lease spurred the development, reserving nearly 300,000 square feet of office space for their relocation from the BNY Mellon Center. The University of Pennsylvania also signed a 20-year lease for 100,000 square feet in the building. And the tower will feature 268 apartments and executive suites, as well as 4,000 square feet of leasable restaurant space for a real mixed-use tower.

Reflecting on the decade-long process and collaboration with Brandywine (and BLTa), Pelli said with no shortage of joy, “this project has been a succession of dreams.” With a vintage pump raising a 50′ banner and midday fireworks, the dreams of an FMC Tower and a completed Cira Centre South complex took the first step toward reality today.

* * *

A new web site has been created for the tower, and it includes a full gallery of renderings. Visit HERE.


About the Author

Bradley Maule Bradley Maule is a former co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and the creator of Philly Skyline. He's a native of Tyrone, Pennsylvania, and he's hung his hat in Shippensburg, Germantown, G-Ho, Fishtown, Portland (Oregon), Brewerytown, and now Mt. Airy. He just can't get into Twitter, but he's way into Instagram @mauleofamerica.


  1. Bob Dobolino says:

    Absolutely hideous and in an idiotic location. Terrible design, totally out of scale with everything around it. Why not build that junk in Phoenix, AZ where it belongs, instead of West Philly.

    1. Rob says:

      That surrounding existing “scale” you speak of is more akin to Phoenix than this new tower is. University City is building up: 3601 Market, Lancaster Square, Evo, 38 Chestnut…

  2. Steve says:

    The scale is/has been changing for a decade or so.

  3. mike says:

    Gee Mr Dobolino I guess the will not build it now because you are so dissapointed
    boo hoo

  4. David says:

    Philadelphia needs the kind of civic boost a great new building can add to a positive self-esteem. For all its undeniable greatness, its a part of the old Eastern capitol city group. And this is a new aspect of the city’s future- tall buildings that are sleek and brilliant>

    1. Norman says:

      I don’t know of too many people who get their self-esteem from bland faceless glass towers, except maybe real estate developers and corporate CEOs.

  5. MDS Chill says:

    I agree that great new buildings are a plus. This is just a new building. Not quite as ugly as that first Cira Center, but the same old glass panels. We need more great-looking buildings that are of our time, like the Comcast Center and the residential 2101 Market.

  6. Jon says:

    It’s a beautiful building and will connect University City to Center City West in a manner that the North Tower—separated by the train yards–cannot do. The only thing we need to do is revisit the article here on putting a subway on the 25th Street Viaduct that travels up to 30th Street to get people from the rapidly developing areas in Point Breeze and Grays’ Ferry to this building. The young people who will work in this building want to live in the City—let’s get them around the City. Our transportation infrastructure is 100 years behind the time.

    1. Brian P says:

      Hear, hear! And while we’re at it, let’s add a spur off the MFL to University City and points southwest.

  7. Bob Dobolino says:

    It’s as oppressive as the death star. Terrible.

    1. Chinaclippercallingalameda says:

      Pretty opinionated for a guy who names himself after a song by the Monkees….

  8. red dog says:

    730′ starting where? Walnut St. is 30 to 50′ above grade at this location.
    One of the pluses of this building is that it will be visible for a long time, nothing else will block it in for a very long time.
    One of the negatives about this building is that we’ll be stuck looking at it for a very long time.
    Certainly better then its little Cira sister a few blocks to the north, but what a mistake. Its hard for me to believe that a boring glass curtain wall is the best they could come with. If nothing else they could have looked at Evo just next door to see an attempt at glass being used in contemporary fashion.
    Oh well, at least the FMC logo will look good.

  9. Frank says:

    The Cira building is my favorite in Philadelphia (except for the night time LED lighting which is cheesy). I like this new building. Cesar Pelli is great.

  10. JL says:

    The La Defense-ification of the West Philly continues. Get ready for that glare on the morning commute, btw. Think traffic moves slowly now? Hope the vegetation on the east side can handle the new reflected heat. And I wonder if this is yet another “empowerment zone” scam.

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