Presented with the chance to make an impact on an urban skyline can be one of the most exciting opportunities for an architect, albeit one of the most stressful. For, as much as we are driven by the project’s potential prominence, its soon-to-be visibility brings with it heavy criticism and concerns- and, rightly so. Such is the case with Peter Gluck & Partners’ latest project for Philadelphia, 205 Race Street. Situated on the border of the Old City, the 16 story residential building has sparked debate due to its 197’6″ height – a marker that far surpasses the historic district’s height limit of 65′. Yet, the building’s positioning - immediately adjacent to the Ben Franklin Bridge and PATCO train lines – demands an architectural strategy that can remedy the site’s vastly different edge conditions. More after the break.
To provide some history on the project, developer Brown/Hill first proposed a 100 ft residential structure designed by SHoP Architects for the site. Yet, the financial crisis quickly closed the door on the project’s future, and left Brown/Hill waiting for a more opportune time to invest in a new real-estate opportunity. Flash forward a few years, and Brown/Hill has chosen to work with Peter Gluck to bring a new residential vision for the surface lot at Second and Race Streets. This new tower stands nearly 100 ft taller than its conceptual predecessor; yet, don’t let the number shock you. When compared to its surroundings, the tower has to take on that kind of height to achieve the desired urban density, and to respond to the complete change of infrastructure conditions on its adjacent edge. This particular site is far more than a typical historic infill condition, as 205 Race Street must simultaneously acknowledge a historic scale and charm, while marking an edge condition to transition to the urban city center and emerging waterfront. It is a delicate game of balance to occupy such a boundary between new and old city lines, where the intention of preserving history and allowing the city to progress are often regarded as opposing ideas.
Gluck’s response is a tower that acts as a transitional volume, moving from the low-scale of the historic Old City, to the massive infrastructural scale of the Ben Franklin Bridge and waterfront. Diagrams illustrate the thinking behind making marketable rental units by altering the spaces’ orientations, all the while maintaining view corridors, and existing scalar relationships. The diagrams include an extensive height analysis which show “local” landmarks – such as a 200 ft smoke stack and 150 ft billboard - near the site as a way to put the tower’s height into perspective. The project’s massing is divided into a lower zone, measuring 56′, and then the stacked tower above. This massing strategy attempts to appease both scales: the undulating nature of the lower street wall provides variety for the storefronts which will fill the ground levels, and the tower will acquire a stronger presence for the new city due to the height incurred from its units. In transitioning from the scale of the historic to the bridge level, the building steps back to provide room for a 9,400 sqf green roof, and to maintain views toward the bridge before its ascent.
205 Race Street is headed to the Zoning Board in November. To learn more about the project and to support Peter Gluck & Partners’ 205 Race Street, check out their website and sign their petition today. Special thanks to Brian Novello for sharing the project with us.