Common Threads in This Year’s Rouse Award Residential Finalists

For starters, they’re not just residential.

Even Folsom Powerhouse, the most residential of this year's Rouse Award finalists, incorporates mixed uses in the form of an updated take on the traditional corner store. | Photo: Postgreen Homes

Even Folsom Powerhouse, the most residential of this year’s Rouse Award finalists, incorporates mixed uses in the form of an updated take on the traditional corner store. | Photo: Postgreen Homes

The Urban Land Institute Philadelphia District Council announced the finalists for this year’s Willard G. “Bill” Rouse Awards for Excellence last week, and five of the 14 finalists fall into the residential category, at least in part.

And it’s that “at least in part” part that’s one of the most significant common threads connecting the five projects. The message these projects deliver is one that urbanists, developers and planners have all been hammering home in one way or another for more than a decade now: Single-use is out, multitasking is in. (Toll Brothers, please copy.)

Not even the most residential of the five projects is exclusively residential, and that project has many other features that make it a standout. That’s Folsom Powerhouse in Francisville, a joint development of Equinox Property Group and Postgreen Homes designed by Interface Studio Architects (ISA). The sort of project Francisville Neighborhood Development Corporation head Penelope Giles has devoted much of her energy towards encouraging, Folsom Powerhouse is about as diverse as it gets, containing just about every kind of urban residence imaginable save subsidized low-income and luxury housing. The commercial space at its prime corner is meant to integrate it with the community, and it’s designed to encourage walking and community interaction – all while meeting the higher standards for sustainability Postgreen projects are known for.

FMC Tower (left) at Cira Centre South | Photo: TastyPoutine via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0

FMC Tower (left) at Cira Centre South | Photo: TastyPoutine via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Another common theme: They’re designed to provide tangible benefits for their surrounding communities in some fashion. One of them, Pelli Clarke Pelli’s FMC Tower at Cira Centre South, seeks to create its own community — what its developer, Brandywine Realty Trust, bills as “Philadelphia’s first vertical neighborhood.” It comes awfully close to living up to that billing when the retail tenants in the adjacent buildings along 30th Street and the public park atop its parking garage next door are taken into account. The others do so in more conventional ways by adding neighborhood retail or accommodating things like charter schools or low-income housing.

Architecturally, the projects run the gamut from the bland (AQ Rittenhouse, Dalian on the Park) to the bold (FMC Tower). Some, like Folsom Powerhouse, distinguish themselves by the skilled blending of common materials, while others, like George Street Commons in York, stand out for the way they fit in with the architecture and design of their surroundings.

But one other thing that unites all of them, as well as the other nine finalists, is: They represent innovative solutions to planning and development challenges. That’s what impressed the national jury of experts that picked the finalists the most.

Which of these are the best of the best? The answer to that question will be revealed at the fourth annual Willard Rouse Awards ceremony and reception on June 14th at the Ballroom at the Ben.

The nine non-residential finalists are:

Bartram’s Mile, the Parks and Recreation Department-sponsored project that brought the Schuylkill River Trail to Southwest Philadelphia while restoring contaminated land in the process

Engine 38 Fire Station. This dramatic departure from traditional fire station design by Cecil Baker + Partners at once preserves the unity of Disston Park in the Wissinoming section of the Northeast, provides the Fire Department with an up-to-date facility and includes a wing for community meetings and activities.

La Colombe Fishtown. Philly’s homegrown quality coffee roaster had a banner year in 2014, capped by the opening of its flagship café and rum distillery in an abandoned Fishtown warehouse. Continuum Architecture & Design’s conversion of the space fit both of these uses and the new company headquarters in, while Stokes Architecture’s work on the interior highlighted the work of local craftsmen and artists (including a huge ESPO mural on one wall) and gave residents of this part of Fishtown a much-needed perk.

Pennovation Works / Pennovation Center. Hollwich Kushner and KSS Architects‘ conversion of a former Du Pont paint factory in Grays Ferry into a 21st-century idea factory has already won several awards for its own innovation and creativity. We guess the ULI will simply pile on with another.

St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children Critical Care Tower. Philadelphia’s other top-rank children’s hospital doubled down on its commitment to North Philadelphia with this new four-story front door to its complex designed by Ewing Cole, the capstone of a $110 million expansion and renovation program.

Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex and Headquarters. Speaking of doubling down on a struggling community, the Sixers put a huge marker down on the Camden waterfront with its 125,000-square-foot headquarters and practice facility. Designed to be a Camden waterfront attraction as well as a place for the team to grow and develop talent, the facility developed by AthenianRazak was one of the first to take advantage of New Jersey tax credits designed to create jobs in distressed communities.

South Philadelphia Community Health and Literacy Center. This VSBA-designed facility brings to East Passyunk and Point Breeze a new and improved library branch, recreation facilities and a comprehensive clinic run by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Swarthmore Town Center West. Swarthmore College’s addition to Swarthmore Borough’s compact downtown – a new building housing an inn, a restaurant and a relocated college bookstore – is just one piece of a multi-piece jigsaw puzzle put together by the borough, the college and PennDOT to address a number of concerns, including improving a dangerous intersection and knitting town and gown closer together.

Waldorf School of Philadelphia. Northwest Philadelphia developer Ken Weinstein’s firm, Philly Office Retail, helped both the experimental private school and northwest Germantown with a thorough restoration of the former St. Peter’s Episcopal Church for reuse as the school’s new, larger home. C2 Architecture, run by parents of Waldorf students, helped the school come up with ideas for configuring its new home that Seiler + Drury Architecture translated into actual space.

Updated May 10, 8:45 a.m., to correctly identify the joint developers of Folsom Powerhouse.

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