Preservation

Restoration Role Model: The Battery

May 10, 2024 | by Extant Magazine

Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Spring 2024 issue of Extant, a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.

View of the former Delaware Generating Station’s east-facing facade. | Photo courtesy of The Battery

The imposing power plant formerly known as the Delaware Generating Station, which was built in 1917 and in operation until 2005, is being transformed by developer Lubert-Adler Partners and the Strada design firm into a riverfront destination with residences, workplaces, and event spaces. Strada Principal Christopher Kenney spoke with Extant about how the firm reimagined new purposes for the industrial- era leviathan and the massive spaces within.

Extant Magazine (EM): What attracted you to this particular building?

Christopher Kenney (CK): The building is an intact industrial relic constructed at a massive scale. It is more a “machine” in neoclassical garb than a building intended for occupancy. The opportunity to occupy a massive neoclassical machine was extraordinary!

The lobby features significant swatches from the building’s power plant past. | Photo: Peter Woodall

EM: What was the building’s original use?

CK: The building was a coal-fired power plant, although it is more accurate to say that the site itself was a power plant. River water traversed the site through massive conduits beneath it. Coal and coal ash traveled on conveyors and in “minecarts” across it. Barges delivered coal and received coal ash at its edges; and electricity fed Philadelphia through underground duct banks. The building’s neoclassical architectural style functioned as a very public statement about the safety and reliability of electrical generation, which was still a fairly new technology.

Apartments show raw concrete from the building’s original fabric. | Photo: Peter Woodall

EM: What was most important to preserve, and what models served as inspiration?

CK: The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, the National Park Service, and the Philadelphia Historical Commission were a big help here. Prioritizing preservation of the facades and window mullion profiles, limiting the visibility of new additions, preserving certain spaces inside the building, and selectively exposing original fabric of the interior were all priorities.

We looked at numerous precedents for inspiration, including the Battersea Power Station and the Tate Modern in London, the Chester Generating Station in Chester, the Grand Bohemian Power Plant in Savannah, the Bailey Power Plant in Winston-Salem, and South Street Landing in Providence.

Two additional stories of apartments were stepped back to make them less visible from ground level. | Photo: Peter Woodall

EM: What was the client’s original vision? Did it change over time?

CK: The project was a labor of love for the client, and the tenant mix evolved a good deal. Some uses, such as apartments, hotel rooms, and an event venue were consistent throughout the project. The tenancy of larger spaces, such as the turbine hall and machine shop, evolved constantly. Circulation through and between the massive spaces inside the building was worked and reworked.

The next area to be tackled is the massive turbine hall. | Photo: Peter Woodall

EM: What was the biggest preservation challenge?

CK: The decisions about the scale of the overbuilds–the two-story additions on top of each former boiler house–and their visibility were studied exhaustively. The overbuilds were ultimately set back significantly from the parapets to reduce their visibility from the ground, which in turn allowed portions of the existing roof monitors and penthouses to remain and serve apartments below.



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About the Author

Extant Magazine is a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.

One Comment:

  1. Sydelle Zove says:

    This transformation is inspiring! The Airy Street Prison in downtown Norristown deserves just as much TLC. The county is about to undertake a conditions assessment, to be followed by the release of an RFEI. The 1851 Napoleon LeBrun-designed structure, with its castle-like walls and turrets, offers a rich canvas onto which adaptive reuse and complementary additions will restore and extend its value .

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