November 28, 2005
A rendering of Richard Meier
& Partners' 608-foot Mandeville Place, one of about
30 new high-rise projects in the city.
Image courtesy Richard Meier & Partners Architects
Until the 1987 opening of Murphy/Jahns
945-foot One Liberty Place, Philadelphians passionately defended
an unwritten agreement limiting city building heights to below
the hat topping the statue of William Penn atop City Hall.
By 1991, four years after One Liberty Place opened, seven
other office towers transgressed the agreement, with fairly
pedestrian designs, even for conservative Philadelphia. In
the 15 years since, not one new building has risen above William
Penn. This situation is now ending. Big time.
Ten new towersmostly high-end offices
and luxury condosare now under construction. Most not
only push this primarily low-lying city skyward, but reimagine
its predominately aristocratic architecture and brick structural
aesthetic with transparent and dynamic forms. Cesar Pelli,
FAIAs nearly completed, 435-foot Cira Centre, a 28-story,
blue-glass-prism office building near 30th Street train station,
already alters the citys skyline and mirrors the cloudscape.
Once it is completed in 2007, Robert Stern, FAIAs 57-story,
975-foot, crystal-like obelisk, the Comcast Center, will be
the tallest building between New York and Chicago. (Stern
is also designing a high-rise condo on Center Citys
Rittenhouse Square.) Solomon Cordwell Buenzs 43-story,
tubelike glass condo complex, The Murano, will be one of the
areas tallest-ever residences, and Wallace Roberts &
Todds five-tower Waterfront Square complex will be the
first of many residential projects slated for the citys
once-all-industrial Delaware River waterfront.
Twenty other towers are planned, including
Handel Architects 485-foot, 44-story condo building
dubbed the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton, and Richard Meier,
FAIAs 41-story, 608-foot Mandeville Place, a lithe,
glass condo tower that will rise along the recently completed
Schuylkill River Pathway.
Driving this downtown makeover, explains
AIA Philadelphia Executive Director John Claypool, are two
key forces: companies wanting iconic headquarters, and residents
wanting previously unavailable high-end housing options. While
low interest rates (which are now rising) and a local real
estate tax abatement have encouraged development, the condo
market is mainly thriving because of increased migration into
Center City from the local suburbs, and even from New York
(1.5 hours away by train). Recently, 1,350 apartment and condo
units opened citywide; 3,574 will open by 2008. Another 7,205
are proposed for completion by 2010.
City leaders hope that such accommodations
will lure new businesses and residents to a city that has
seen its population steadily decline since the 1950s.
There are no sure things, especially
here, but if the current trends continue, Philadelphiapositioned
between New York and Washington, and more affordable than
bothcould emerge as Americas next boom town.