It’s been years since a Philly-based company has been as inescapable in American life as Comcast. The most thrilling part of the new tower the company occupies is the sign on the front whose stainless steel letters say “Comcast Center” in a rounded typeface, similar to the one that spells “Change” for Obama. Something important is happening, it proclaims, right here in Philadelphia. (Indeed, the building’s green additions alone — like the underground water loop for heating and cooling and the waterless urinals—mark a forward stride.) It’s doubly exhilarating to see the sign on John F. Kennedy Boulevard — a street on which nothing interesting has ever happened — and across a lively plaza with a fountain, a cafe, and an arbor finned with color-shifting dichroic glass. But walking into the lofty, overbearing Winter Garden lobby is a letdown. The supports for the dozen figures in Jonathan Borofsky’s artwork Humanity in Motion add some welcome complexity, but the sculpture itself is banal, while an 83-by-25-foot ultra-high-def LED screen cycles through 18 hours of views of urban and natural landscapes, art and random images. Overall, the box where Comcast lives is more handsome than the boxes the company puts in our living rooms, but just as bland. Comcast is a tenant, not the owner of the building, which is a taller, better-tailored version of the developers’ stubs that dominated the city’s skyline until the mid-1980s. Five large pleats in the glass facade do all they can to make a bulky container appear to be a slender obelisk, and a multi-story hole near the top adds depth and mystery. But if you stand on the street and stare at the tower, what you’ll see is neither meaning nor innovation, just the gaudy spire of Liberty Place reflected on its facade. Grade: B
Hine served as the Inquirer’s architecture and design critic from 1973 until 1996.