An apartment building has been proposed for the narrow space behind the Rodin Museum, and you can bet the Inquirer’s Inga Saffron has feelings about it (and her usual well-reasoned, bigger-picture analysis).
At issue is not just the aesthetics of the grounds ringing the well-loved museum. There’s also the city’s “low line” rail park to consider. The “low line,” of course, is the underground equivalent to the city’s other dreamed-of rail park. Should the Cross Properties (owned by David Blumenfeld — not that Blumenfeld, but his brother) plan move forward as proposed, the nascent park idea would be kaput.
Two stories below street level, the trench also benefits from the perception of isolation. Walking its two-mile length, you experience the city at a distance, occasionally glimpsing snippets of the skyline above its massive stone walls. Once capped by the apartment building, the pit behind the Rodin would be reduced, at best, to a dim tunnel. At worst, the corridor would be cut into two useless pieces, rendering the park idea stillborn.
Saffron concedes that the concept behind the plan isn't all bad (there is retail to be had, and everyone's favorite -- underground parking). She also points out that the "low line" is hardly a slam-dunk anyway and that some people worry it might compete needlessly with the Parkway.
But in the end, she just doesn't buy that Blumenfeld and his architect -- Barton Partners -- are capable of pulling off a job this important.
Based on their portfolios, neither Barton nor Blumenfeld has ever designed anything approaching what is needed here. In the last few months, Barton has produced some smart urban site plans for Philadelphia developments that never materialized. But its completed residential buildings have been the lowest form of developer-driven architecture, bloated in scale and poorly detailed.
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