Hot Or Not, Part II: A Drive-By Critique

September 17, 2014 | by Jason Lempieri


Editor’s Note: Philadelphia’s building boom has caught its stride and the shape of the city is shifting like tectonic plates on overdrive. Ever the trusty judge, we have once again asked University of the Arts industrial design professor and design practitioner Jason Lempieri to weigh in on these new additions to our built landscape. He calls this “drive by critique.” We think he makes some weighty observations. See our first “Hot or Not,” from February 2013, HERE.

So Jason, HOT or NOT?



Goldtex, 315 N. 12th Street | Photo: Bradley Maule

Goldtex – Hot as a union welder’s torch

315 N. 12th Street

Kling Stubbins (Jacobs) & Coscia Moos Architecture/Post Brothers LLC

The architects gave an older industrial concrete frame a bright and varied coat of vertical, insulated cladding, which is both welcome and smart. Yet, the labor fiasco which cast a pall over the renovation process is an ironic reminder that we are still building the old way, and that this is just new garb for an old union city building. Even more, rumor has it that the building is infested with tiny inflatable rats. (Hidden City explored the union conflict at Goldtex HERE.)


SouthStar Lofts | Photo: Michael Bixler

SouthStar Lofts, 521 S Broad Street | Photo: Michael Bixler

SouthStar Lofts @ Broad & South Street – Brown Dwarf star cold

1400 block of South Street

JKR partners LLC/Dranoff Properties

With the site’s potential limited by an underutilized Floor Area Ratio that diminishes the value of its location, this apartment complex is left reaching far for the stars. If any site called for a reevaluation of its height limitation via variance, this is the one. It is also surprising that the owners of such a large development project only acquired 85 percent of the South Street side, awkwardly leaving two attainable townhouses. Further, the “artwork” hangs clumsily and incongruently over the Broad Street subway entrance. At least the sidewalk is passable.



Family Court, 1500 Arch Street | Photo: Hidden City Staff

Family Court – Contextually Cold

1500 Arch Street

EwingCole/ Rotwitt/Pulver

Relying on the adjacent Vincent Kling-designed MSB and FCFHA’s 1515 Arch Street for scale and façade pointers, the Family Court is an apropos cold edifice. Didn’t have to be, but that’s what happens when you have a visual illiterate strong-arm a project. Still hoping the ground floor will have a restaurant called Last Chance Café. At least the former Vine Street courthouse will have a livelier afterlife as a hotel, which could engender more family court disputes.



1900 Arch Street | Photo: Bradley Maule

1900 Arch Street – Yawn…

1900 Arch Street

Varenhorst/PMC Property Group

Zzzzzzzzz…Huh? What? Sorry, must have fallen asleep looking at this residential complex and its regularized window pattern and gray cladding. The good news is that if Norman Foster can squeeze out anything nearby and it will look amazing in comparison. Good thing nothing like this will be done again soon…wait, what’s that happening on Columbus Boulevard? D’oh!



The View At Montgomery, 1100 W. Montgomery Avenue | Photo: Bradley Maule

The View at Montgomery, Temple University – Trying too hard to be cool

1100 W. Montgomery Avenue

WRT/Goldenberg Group

Running along the south side of Cecil B. Moore, this student housing slab shifts in two to break up its massing and signal an entry point. Student amenities abound and reveal themselves with welcome architectural skin changes that often afford larger views to its residents. Yet, there is a disconnect between its thick, angled ground floor columns and the box-shaped slab above. Further, its bold use of color seems like a desperately oversized dressing to placate its nesting Owls. A poor man’s Unité. And students: beware of the Hogwarthian stair. (Hidden City profiled this project HERE.)



Paseo Verde, 1950 North 9th Street | Photo: Bradley Maule

Paseo Verde – Caliente

1950 North 9th Street

WRT/ APM/ Jonathan Rose Companies

With SEPTA tracks on one side and an evolving neighborhood on the other, Paseo Verde provides a dynamic view (¡sin mural!) from the former and an inviting streetscape to the latter. The corner is appropriately emphasized with a taller element, which is supported by a V-shaped column configuration leaving the ground open for passage. This is a carefully integrated housing project where all players (APM neighborhood, developer, architect and SEPTA) clearly collaborated well. Hopefully, Paseo Verde will translate into better designs by other developers and architects.



Evo, 2930 Chestnut Street | Photo: Bradley Maule

Evo – Hot as an August Evening

2930 Chestnut Street

Erdy McHenry/ Campus Crest Communities, Harrison Street Real Estate Capital, and Brandywine Realty Trust

There is much to appreciate about the form and façade articulation of EVO, a 33 story high-end student residence tower across from the Art Deco IRS building. When approached from a distance, the pitched form counters the Cira Center in perspective. The subtle changes to the facade and the varying transparency of the fenestration become more apparent as the viewing distance decreases. Any ground level activity will help humanize the intersection on Chestnut Street. The only thing that could ruin it would be a less articulated building to its south. Ahem. (Hidden City profiled this project HERE.)


Wistar Institute, 3601 Spruce Street | Photo: Peter Woodall

Wistar Institute, 3601 Spruce Street | Photo: Peter Woodall

Wistar – Thermogenic

3601 Spruce Street

Ballinger/Robert & Penny Fox, PDIC, RACP, et al

A subtly glazed jewel gives new life to the erstwhile Institute adjacent to Penn’s campus. The large glass central massing is bookended by brick history on the east side and a revamped laboratory space on the west side. A belt of new glass harnesses the western portion and expresses the general movement near the site. Pushed-in glazing at ground level on Spruce Street reveals the older eastern portion while generating an evident entrance (the Institute’s first public entrance in some time). Overall the design is careful and necessary, just like the extraordinary research within.



3737 Market | Photo: Bradley Maule

3737 Market – 37.37 out of 100 degrees Celsius

3737 Market Street

Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects /UCSC & Wexford Science & Technology

A simple glass box on a smaller, transparent podium makes its presence known through scale and site. The verticality of the glass curtain wall helps to combat the building’s girth. Yet, its corporate nature is all too visible. Hopefully, the work inside will be more innovative than the outside.


Mariott at the Navy Yard

Courtyard Marriot at the Navy Yard, 1001 Intrepid Avenue | Photo: Michael Bixler

Courtyard Marriot at the Navy Yard – Hotter than the average hotel

1001 Intrepid Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19112

Erdy McHenry/Ensemble Hotel Partners, LLC        

Despite its location, this is no suburban hotel. The large scale, varied fenestration and undulating massing help to break up the obvious standard layout of hotel rooms. Views toward the river and the stadium complex connect the hotel to the city. In sixty years the hotel will either be fully integrated with the city, or only accessible by boat.


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About the Author

Jason Lempieri A self-described Catalyst, Jason Lempieri investigates subversion, history, and collective memory in his work. He designs from the perspective that form follows meaning. He is the founder of the multi-disciplinary architecture and design studio RethinkTANK llc. Currently, he is raising public funds for Gilded Gates, an artfully designed bike rack at Rittenhouse Square endorsed by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.


  1. NickFromGermantown says:

    Although an extra storey would have been nice for the building to better assert itself to the train station, the design of Paseo Verde is not done justice by its appearance. Specifically, the dark gray panels on Paseo Verde look like they used tarpaper for siding.

  2. qguy says:

    Got a link to Part I?

  3. Whoops. It’s been added to the Editor’s Note. Thanks for reminding us.

  4. En says:

    Interesting feedback. I must confess my favorite part was the comment about tiny inflatable rats. LOL

  5. En says:

    LOL tiny inflatable rats. 15 new townhouses on my block, no union workers.

  6. Linda Dann says:

    Must say I agree with the author’s opinions throughout and for my part will say that not one of these buildings energizes me, nor gives me much by way of faith in the city’s renewal.
    Ho Hum- some of them I doubt I’d even notice.

  7. Carl says:

    You had me until you gave props to Wistar. That building is an architectural abortion.

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