Popkin on New MAR Design: Still Mired in Conservatism

museum entrance

“This, I think is most telling about how little this design has moved from mimicry, from its deep, deep conservatism,” says Popkin about the way the museum will meet the street. Rendering via Museum of the American Revolution website.

We asked architecture critic Nathaniel Popkin to comment on the redesign of the American Museum of the Revolution that was approved yesterday by the Philadelphia Art Commission. Popkin has been the most outspoken critic of Robert A.M. Stern’s design for the museum, though he has certainly not been alone (“it’s controversial for its shittiness,” he notes).

After a look at the new renderings, which you can see in a slideshow below, Popkin had to wonder just how much time Stern & co. spent “back at the drawing board” after the Commission requested a redesign. Here’s his assessment:




I know that members of the Art Commission took this quite seriously--they wanted to make this building better; and I think the Museum people tried in an honest, but also very limited way to address the concerns. It wasn't probably ever realistic that the Art Commission would be able to force a real redesign. But they didn't come close to getting one, despite the way the Inquirer framed the story this morning. And that's what's so frustrating.

Yes, the cupola is gone and there's now an entrance on Chestnut Street. In the rendering they even now have the cars going in the proper direction. They removed the canons from the plaza (this isn't 1976). But that's it, really. In fact the building looks all the more like Stern's Bush Presidential Library now. This is still an brick box that might be built anywhere, that doesn't speak to the city around it and that isn't at all inviting. That's one of the surprises in this "redesign:" they clarified the detailing on the entranceways--and now the building feels ever more like a 1920s office building: it does nothing to draw you in from the street, into the story of the museum.

Unfortunately, now, they can declare victory, tell the world they've reacted to the city's demands and still we're left with an uninspired brick box that tells us nothing about the audacity and power of the revolution.

Meanwhile, his co-editor at Hidden City, Bradley Maule, has also posted about the MAR, saying "the design as a whole is far more goofus than gallant."




All renderings via Museum of the American Revolution website.

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.

  • everyone’sacritic

    Quite frankly I think it fits the historic character of the neighborhood.

  • George

    The “contextual” architecture of Robert A.M. Stern reflects this era, in which the need for this museum seems unquestionable. Time will tell whether this is simply a waste of money and real estate. Unless this museum has rare and extraordinary artifacts to exhibit, it will eventually close from lack of interest (and funding!). The exterior design of the building is inconsequential. What’s important is what lies within.

  • C Benjamin

    What frightening vision this museum board has. Well, they are all billionaires. This design is what happens when the .01% impose their interpretation of history: a revolution that paved the way for the glorious aristocracy of the 21st century. Why not guild it in gold leaf and add a few busts of generous, tax-avoiding benefactors in Roman senatorial garb?

  • Danielzinho

    Who gives a shit? What does this guy want? A Benjamin Franklin statue in front eating a fucking cheesesteak with one hand and ringing the liberty bell with the other? It’s a brick building… like all the other red brick buildings in Old City. You’re not going to capture the feel of the neighborhood by doing more with the building. You’re going to capture the feel of the neighborhood by keeping it simple. These people are just trying to get notoriety for themselves by having some crazy design that will get them attention… but in Old City, Philadelphia… any notable, crazy design is only going to be out of place and terrible. Just leave it how it is.

    • bill deja

      lol and well said

  • oxjox

    What the heck going on with architecture these days??! I like this design a lot and wish more new construction in Philadelphia followed this style. I heard Popkin on the radio this morning. He wants something contemporary to reflect how the actions during the revolutionary war have carried through across time and influenced governments around the globe. So, that’s to say, from what I’m interpreting, something that has little to know reflection on the city the building is in, the history contained in the building, and surely something that looks nothing like what Robert A.M. Stern has designed before. A visit to Popkin’s website shows that he actually knows a thing or two about Philly but his opinion about this project is absolutely wrong. I think he has it out for Stern.

    There’s a lot of press opposed to this design. I hope more people will speak out in favor of it before we end up with something hideous in our city.