Heller: “If You’re Going to Hire Gehry, Let’s Do Gehry”

art museum plan

East Terrace Aerial Mockup. Image via the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Greg Heller, author of Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia, knows something about the planning and evolution of Philadelphia’s Parkway. Aside from Inga Saffron, there are few people I can think of more qualified to offer an opinion on Frank Gehry’s plans for the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), now on view there in “Making a Classic Modern: Frank Gehry’s Master Plan for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”

While other critics have basically said, “Thank god Gehry’s plans for the museum don’t seem very Gehry-ish” — in other words, he’s kept himself in check in our rather conservative, Quaker city — Heller finds himself disappointed by the absence of Gehry’s flamboyance:

The exhibit showcases the results of a design process that has been going on since 2006—seriously, that’s eight years of planning by one of the top architects of our time, famous for massive, ambitious, bizarrely shaped, twisted sculptures of metal that (like them or not) become a permanent and recognizable fixture in their cities’ urban landscapes. Even if I didn’t like the proposed renovation design, I figured at least it would be ambitious and interesting. It was neither.

Heller knew it wasn’t going to be Bilbao — after all, the design is primarily underground, as he notes — but he thought we might get something “iconic and visionary—perhaps our own version of I.M. Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre, but Gehryesque.” Instead, he says, Gehry has offered a pallid plan for an “amazingly boring” museum expansion.

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Ryan Howard Spent $80K on Doorknobs


Days after reporting his Blue Bell home was pending sale and speculating to where the Big Piece was headed, we now find out his beachfront estate, which reportedly rang up to $5.8 million in construction costs, is closer to completion than we imagined.

Situated just 10 miles from the Phillies’ spring training complex in Clearwater, the home will include two kitchens, two elevators, three laundry rooms, bowling alley, wine room, two-story library, and (you can take moment to catch your breath now) a trophy room, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

And then there are the doorknobs: Read more »

Trailer: “The Master Builder”

Wallace Shawn and Lisa Joyce co-star in Jonathan Demme's "A Master Builder."

Wallace Shawn and Lisa Joyce co-star in Jonathan Demme’s “A Master Builder.”

This film adaptation of the Henrik Ibsen play by the same name has only had a teensy theatrical release, despite a serious list of heavy-hitters involved. This version started as a play translated by Wallace Shawn and produced by André Gregory, creative partners best known for the film My Dinner With André. Director Jonathan Demme has taken the play, which the New York Times said Gregory spent 14 years developing, and put it onto film, with Shawn playing the title character–a dying starchitect. Architectural Record characterizes him this way:

The Master Builder, once designed grand churches with impossible towers; now, after personal tragedy and wracked with existential guilt, he’s focused on “homes for people to live in.” A good elevator pitch, but one that ignores his rampaging ego and reptilian machinations that ruined his mentor, Brovik; holds down Brovik’s son, Ragnar; toys with Ragnar’s fiancé (and Solness’ bookkeeper), Kaia; and keeps his wife, Aline, in an emotional prison. Only when the young, mysterious (and possibly divine) Hilde appears at the Solness home does Halvard discover something akin to empathy and humanity.

Ah, yes. The old genius transformed by youth and beauty. A trope in Ibsen’s time and certainly one now.

Reviews have been mixed, but the film will be released by Criterion, which is an enormous honor for any filmmaker. Trailer below.

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Super Parking Nerd From Philly Hits the Big Time

The Lift at Juniper Street

The Lift at Juniper Street

The International Parking Institute’s Rachel Yoka, originally from the Philly area, gets a sprawling 2,000-word feature from CityLab as part of its Future of Transportation series. The piece starts with her driving her Nissan Rogue into The Lift on Juniper, the green parking lot that takes your car on an automated elevator ride to secure parking. Yoka sings the Lift’s praises to CityLab writer Amy Crawford:

“You don’t need ventilation, you don’t need lighting,” she says. “You have space savings in terms of floor-to-floor ratio.” Because there’s no need for ramps or aisles, The Lift can accommodate twice as many cars as a traditional garage of the same size, and the cars are lifted into position with their engines off, cutting down on emissions.

She also takes Crawford to Temple to look at a garage there.

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Terrific Villanova Home With Oddly Purple Screening Room


Talk about a study in contrasts: Outside, this lovely home on winding Greenbrier Drive passes for a traditional Main Line residence, one you can easily imagine delicately strewn with lights in December, though its advantageous position–set back from the road, hidden behind trees and atop a little hill–would make it tough for pesky carolers to reach the door. It’s the kind of home that may have been built in 1981, but evokes earlier times–and I’m not talking about the 1970s.

Or am I? Inside, the home is mostly modern, with plenty of white walls and sleek surfaces. There’s a contemporary skylight and sink, sconces and stovetop. There’s some molding, but it’s as subdued as most of the color palette.

But what happened in the screening room? Its walls, ceiling and microsuede theater seats are all purple. Very purple. If it were a book, it’d be James and the Giant Plum. The only other color in the room comes from three metallic female mannequins, and all I know about them is that they are not Academy Awards.

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Time-Lapse Video: Does It Seem Like Construction Moves Slowly?

A screen shot from the time-lapse video of Lancaster Square's construction. Actual video below.

A screen shot from the time-lapse video of Lancaster Square’s construction. Actual video below.

With the exception of Evo, a building that’s going up so fast, it’s apparently an emergency — or maybe it just looks that way from my office window — watching construction projects take shape can be like watching paint dry, or grass grow, or people at IKEA walk toward the Marketplace. And in the case of some notable projects, there can be chasms of years when absolutely nothing happens even after construction has begun, leaving literal chasms in the ground. One of the best examples? The Rittenhouse Hotel, which paused mid-construction due to some very serious developer shenanigans, and left a big hole (not quite a DisneyHole, though) where kids used to play when I was growing up. It was basically an adjunct playground to Rittenhouse Square, though not technically condoned by the Fairmount Park system.


This aerial time-lapse video of the construction of Drexel’s Lancaster Square, submitted by user filadelfea to reddit philadelphia, is, in concept, very exciting. Everyone loves time-lapse videos! But the reality is that even when construction is sped up, it’s still very slow. And some folks just don’t cotton to it. As reddit user gtlgdp writes:

Could somebody please speed this up? I got too bored too fast.

I understand that reaction. Especially at the beginning. But it is worth watching the video from start to finish to see, from that all-encompassing aerial view, exactly what’s involved in a large-scale building project like this. It’s staggering to see all the moving parts and when in the process they’re deployed. Not only that, but the weather! You can really understand the way the snow necessarily interrupts these kinds of projects, or any construction for that matter. And like any time-lapse video, the changes in the weather and the landscape are just, well, pretty. And if you want to see more, go to Drexel’s official site for the time-lapse, here. It’s updated every day. Obviously.

You know what they say: Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither was Drexel. (But this project is moving along quite nicely, incidentally. John Fry makes things happen.)

Morning Headlines: A Mini PSFS Building? Historical Commission Makes Final Decision In One Week

Big Brothers Big Sisters Warner Bros film exchange 230 N 13th Street

Could a smaller model of the PSFS building rise from the corner of 13th and Florist? That’s what Inga Saffron seems to think after reviewing the planned addition for the former Big Brothers Big Sisters headquarters, a proposal the Historical Commission must decide on next Friday.

See, soon after the historic property went on the market last June (it was once the Warner Bros. film exchange building), Baywood Hotels expressed interest in adding a tower on top of the original Art Deco building, in pure Hearst Tower-style.

A July 11th vote by the commission approved this proposal, despite its architectural subcommittee protesting its design and subsequently offering suggestions for improvement. Spg3, the architect Baywood hired, took some of these suggestions, resulting in what Saffron calls a “not-so-subtle copy of the shaft of the PSFS building.”

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Philly’s Karen Daroff to Redesign 800 Olive Gardens

One of the new Olive Gardens, via the chain's Facebook page.

One of the new Olive Gardens, via the chain’s Facebook page.

Most people probably don’t put Olive Garden restaurants in the same company, design-wise, with the Loews Hotel or restaurants like Cuba Libre and Susanna Foo. But Daroff Design founder Karen Daroff, whose projects include countless hotels, restaurants, public spaces and offices, among other venues across the country, has taken on the challenge of redesigning Darden Restaurants entire Olive Garden chain, whose look has gotten a little stale.

So far, only two restaurants have undergone the renovations, which, according to the Orlando Sentinal, run “up to $600,000 per location.” The Sentinel ran an interview with Daroff, which provides a window into how this kind of enormous project works. It’s a little Mad Men-esque:

1. Visit Darden HQ and several current restaurants.
2. Have company reps explain the brand image they want to convey.
3. Have a think tank at Daroff Design with clients and designers using a storyboard.
4. Research broader influences (urban Italy, in this case) as a guide.

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Property Moguls Behaving Badly: Peeing on Skittles

Ryan Gosling in the film All Good Things, loosely based on the life of Robert Durst.

Ryan Gosling in the film All Good Things, loosely based on the life of Robert Durst.

Son of the late real estate magnate Seymour Durst, and a real estate force in his own right, Robert Durst is once again in the news, but this time, it’s not about selling buildings.

Last week, he made news in the New York Post with the headline “Cross-dressing killer now making a killing in NYC real estate” after he sold two buildings in Brooklyn for $21.15 million.

Durst is a pariah in a family that owns many, many billions worth of property in New York (you know you probably won’t be invited to Thanksgiving when 12 of your relatives have restraining orders against you). But he’s still very much in the game: His wife is a New York real estate broker, and he has a chunky trust fund. Aside from those Brooklyn buildings, the Post’s Jennifer Gould Keil writes, “Durst has also gotten his hands on some killer real estate in Harlem, where prices have skyrocketed” and “reportedly paid $3 million in September 2012 for a 41.96 percent interest in Havemeyer Portfolio LLC.”

Why all the “killer” references? Well, Durst has a troubled history, to say the least.

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New Renderings of 205 Race Street

A new rendering of 205 Race Street, courtesy of the developers

The 197-foot 205 Race Street apartment tower to be located near the Ben Franklin Bridge has a long and acrimonious history. The developers, Jeffrey Brown and Greg Hill, have owned the site (now a vacant lot) for a decade, and this is their third attempt to develop it. In 2012, a version of the tower was opposed by the (now defunct) Old City Civic Association, which argued that its scale didn’t fit the historic neighborhood.

Inga Saffron weighed in, in favor of the tower, and City Council ended up passing a bill designed to allow it to go through.

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