Marked Potential: Police Administration Building

July 27, 2015 | by Shila Scarlet Griffith, LEED AP
| Photo: Michael Bixler

Making the rounds. The Police Administration Building was built with 140 pre-cast concrete panels | Photo: Michael Bixler

Police Administration Building — Marked as Youth Outreach Offices and a Community Center.

The Police Administration Building at 700 Race Street will be vacated when the police administrative offices move into the 87-year-old Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company in West Philadelphia, a $250 million renovation project slated for completion in 2018. The striking four story wave of curvilinear concrete that resembles a giant pair of handcuffs–nicknamed the “Roundhouse”–was constructed in 1963 with designs by Geddes, Brecher, Qualls, and Cunningham. It was built with pre-cast, pre-stressed concrete panels that employ a unique vibration system for the pouring of a dry concrete mixture invented by the Dutch company Schokbeton.

Repurposing the Roundhouse into a small hotel or apartment building might be a no-brainer. The building’s close vicinity to the the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the surrounding view of Franklin Square, the seemingly endless grid of unobstructed windows providing natural light, and the immediate proximity of both Chinatown and Old City all make living or lodging very attractive for reuse, or for demolition and new construction (despite the building’s iconic shape and role in the city’s history, it isn’t listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places and therefore protected from demolition). However, we decided to go in an entirely different direction and wanted to extend the building’s life of serving the public, particularly with the city’s young in mind. We propose renovating the cylinder closest to Franklin Square into office suites for youth outreach, counseling, and educational services and outfitting the opposing cylinder into a community center.

Entry Level

Ground Level_Community

1.Information Desk |  2. Open Game Table Space – Fooseball | 3. Classroom/Meeting Room | 4. Storage | 5. Open Multipurpose Room | 6. Lockers | 7. Coat Check | 8. Family Restrooms | 9. Men’s restroom | 10. Womens’ Restroom | 11. Existing Elevators

Upon entry, the public will encounter an information desk and either be directed upstairs to one of the social services office suites or toward the entrance of the community center. A new staircase would be built behind the information desk which would hug the curvature of the southern end of the structure. This is the only new mode of vertical circulation that we added and felt that the existing elevators and circular staircases throughout the Roundhouse were suitable.

The building’s fenestration is abundant and attractive, so we felt it crucial to take advantage of the windows. However, at ground level the windows are clerestory, offering a bit of natural light, but no access to views. Therefore, we decided to place as many ancillary spaces as possible on this floor.

| Photo: Michael Bixler

The Roundhouse’s south-facing wave of fenestration | Photo: Michael Bixler

The core of the first level would mostly serve as circulation, but it could also be used as a reception space for fundraising events and performances. The west cylinder would feature overflow restrooms and space for coat storage in the cooler months. The east cylinder would feature space for storage as well as open spaces for tabletop games like chess and bingo, game tables, and a classroom, which will have a storage closet and a sink to accommodate needs for arts and crafts activities.

Second Level

1. Office Reception  2. Open Workspace  3. Private Office  4. Private Restroom  5. Storage 6. Kitchenette 7. Conference Room  8. Game Table Space - Pool  9. Game Table space - Table Tennis  10. Cafeteria  11. Lunchroom/Tabletop Game Room 12. Private Restrooms 13. Existing Elevators

1. Office Reception | 2. Open Workspace | 3. Private Office | 4. Private Restroom | 5. Storage | 6. Kitchenette | 7. Conference Room | 8. Game Table Space – Pool | 9. Game Table space – Table Tennis | 10. Cafeteria | 11. Lunchroom/Tabletop Game Room | 12. Private Restrooms | 13. Existing Elevators

The footprint of the levels above the ground floor are slightly larger, although the geometry of the floor plan is roughly the same. The interior layout of the west cylinder is repeated from the second level tup through the fourth level. Only employees that work in the office suites will be allowed security access to utilize these elevators from the ground level.

Each office will have open workspace with views to the outside where possible. The private administrative offices will have floor-to-ceiling glass on one side–to borrow light and views–and two conference rooms. Amenities will include a storage room, kitchenette, and two private bathrooms. Guests would enter through double doors directly into the reception area from the new main stair or existing elevators at the core of the building.

The community center section of this level is immediately accessible off of the main stairwell and core elevators. There would be two game table spaces, a cafeteria complete with a kitchen prep area, and a dedicated space for food storage. Off of the cafeteria will be a lunchroom which may be used by anyone in the community center or offices. This space could also double as a large communal space at other times for meetings or activities. The east cylinder also has four private restrooms consistent on each floor above as well.

Third & Fourth Level

Office Reception  2. Open Workspace  3. Private Office  4. Private Restroom  5. Storage 6. Kitchenette 7. Conference Room  8. Information Desk 9. Classrooms/Meeting Rooms  10. Private Bathrooms  11. Existing Elevators

Office Reception | 2. Open Workspace | 3. Private Office | 4. Private Restroom | 5. Storage | 6. Kitchenette | 7. Conference Room | 8. Information Desk | 9. Classrooms/Meeting Rooms | 10. Private Bathrooms | 11. Existing Elevators

The third and fourth levels of this multi-use building will be essentially identical. To the east, the community center section at the third and fourth levels is a bit more private. Upon entering double doors off of the main circulation there is an information desk. There are two meeting rooms adjacent to the information desk with views to the south. These rooms could also be utilized as classrooms for continuing education courses and job training. To the east are more classrooms with large tables. The furniture in this room would be flexible–stackable chairs and folding tables to allow for multipurpose space. Some of the rooms also have sinks with some cabinetry and a small storage closet.

Exterior Spaces

| Photo: Michael Bixler

Ripe for reuse. Although architecturally unique and structurally sound, the Roundhouse’s stellar location makes demolition and redevelopment a threatening possibility | Photo: Michael Bixler

To make the exterior more inviting we propose removing the building’s surrounding concrete walls that are almost as tall as the first level, which has a ceiling height that is over 15 feet. The removal of the wall would offer a pleasant visual transition from Franklin Square and would be replaced with outdoor tables and benches in some areas. The existing parking lot could remain, but perhaps this land could be sold for private development in order to facilitate the redevelopment of the Roundhouse.


Michael Bixler co-authored this article.


About the Author

Shila Scarlet Griffith, LEED AP Shila is an NCIDQ certified and LEED accredited interior designer that also practices interior architecture. She holds both a bachelor’s degree in interior design and master’s degree in sustainable design from Philadelphia University. In 2012, Shila started SG23, a small studio that offers design services spanning interior design, graphic design and website design and development. She also teaches a design studio in the continuing education program at Moore College of Art and Design.


  1. CounterCultureRadical says:

    Why would we put a community youth center so far away from where our beautiful young men and women reside? The cause of community empowerment and education is paramount in the foundation of our united destiny, but there are plenty of abandoned school buildings within walking distance of needy children. This building should be razed as a symbol of institutionalized racism. It is no different than the Confederate flag. Build it where we need it.

    1. Astralmilkman says:

      That last statement is simply …………… how can I put this ? RIDICULOUS !! It’s a building, a structure , a place . It’s architecturaly significant and should be reused! It’s beautiful and unique. I just don’t have the time for Politically correct criticism of buildings.

  2. James says:

    Land is valuable and it may well be more cost effective to demo than to renovate and repurpose site. However, I would advocate the preservation of one of the windows as a piece of art inside the new Police Headquarters on 46th & Market St. It all depends who wants the site to build a project on it and the options are out there.

  3. BJT says:

    In my opinion it should be sold to a private developer who can develop a plan to tie the structure and land into the surrounding local community. The building itself could be mixed use or simply apartments and condos. The lower level should be developed into retail, and the property should be developed with as much density as possible for the space.

    Option B – Knock it down, develope the land.

    Option C- Reuse as a hotel or museum it near old city.

    Just my thoughts don’t attack lol..

  4. Scott @ says:

    You just don’t see commercial construction like this anymore.

  5. Jay Schwartz says:

    I would love to see SOME of the amazing 20th century buildings — created with taxpayer’s money — still be used for the public good, and not simply sold to the richest bidder. What message does that send to youth? Or, for that matter, what message does it send them when nothing lasts more than a few decades? And for what it’s worth: beautiful young men and women reside all over the city.

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