The latest evidence of Philadelphia’s architectural comeback? The Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta is coming to town for a project at Temple University.
“We have a fantastic tradition of quality architeture and urbanism in Philadelphia, but we do go through low ebbs in that tradition,” says Harris Steinberg, the executive director of PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. — Next City
The Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta has designed some of the most notable buildings and public spaces in the world over the last 15 years. The new Oslo Opera House. Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina. A reconfigured Times Square in New York, and a massive expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Next up? Temple University’s library, on a still-gritty stretch of Broad Street between Montgomery and Norris in North Philadelphia. Snøhetta director and co-founder Craig Dykers is delivering a lecture on campus next week, sharing some of his firm’s work with Temple students and a general audience of designers, architects and urbanists.
Dykers might shed some light on Snøhetta’s early stage thinking for the library project, but design work has not yet begun, so don’t expect any renderings.
Even so, Dykers is likely to address a full house. The Oslo-based firm, which was featured in a glowing 5,400-word New Yorker profile in January, is very much in vogue. Plenty of its work is as iconic as it comes, which is pretty much a prerequisite in this starchitect age. But Snøhetta is more focused on engagement than the wow factor, which would seem to make the firm a fitting addition to Philadelphia’s evolving architectural scene.
Long regarded as a fusty, conservative city in terms of architecture, Philadelphia has slowly but surely been shedding that identity, emerging as a place where serious and innovative architecture is increasingly welcome, but flash for flash’s sake is still frowned upon.
Taking a really long view, Philadelphia has of course been a national leader in design: Frank Furness and Louis Kahn, Edward Bacon and Robert Venturi, the PSFS building and the Fairmount Water Works.
But for a good 20-year stretch — after the Center City skyscraper rush ended, and before the renaissance of the past five or 10 years began — Philadelphia was in a serious architectural funk.
“We have a fantastic tradition of quality architeture and urbanism in Philadelphia, but we do go through low ebbs in that tradition,” says Harris Steinberg, the executive director of PennPraxis, the clinical arm of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.