Leave your mark on history at the Museum of American Revolution’s “topping off” ceremony, which marks reaching the literal highest point in the structure’s construction process. This Thursday, July 16th, at 11:45 a.m. the public is invited to sign their “John Hancocks” on a 40-foot beam that will subsequently be hoisted to the top of structure. The Museum will further pay tribute to this time-honored “topping-off” tradition by providing a lunch, courtesy of Wawa. An announcement of project updates will be included in the ceremony.
It’s expected to open sometime in late 2016, but construction of the Museum of the American Revolution will soon be underway. In fact, the Inquirer’s Stephan Salisbury reports that a symbolic groundbreaking took place yesterday for the $119 million building designed Robert A.M. Stern.
You may recall the museum was previously under a lot of scrutiny when renderings first came out, leaving a number of people unimpressed. “Could [it] be constructed in a way to make its Georgian details feel plausibly like real architecture?” asked Inga Saffron in 2012. Even after its redesign, the building’s appearance was still deemed uninspired.
I’ m starting to think that Robert A.M. Stern is the Robert De Niro of architecture, and not just because the two New Yorkers have names that trouble copy editors. It’s the professional inconsistency — a disconcerting whiplash between knockout performances and efforts one could charitably term “phoned in.”
Of course, the stakes aren’t the same: De Niro’s embarrassing (but ephemeral) turn in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle matters far less than, say, Stern’s design for the (theoretically permanent) Museum of the American Revolution. Panned by critics, the design also spurred an angry online petition. The Philadelphia Art Commission sent Stern back to the drawing board for a redesign of what they called his “mishmash” — with help from a Commission committee created especially to guide him.
That’s quite a comeuppance for the dean of Yale’s architecture school — the head of an eponymous 300-
person firm who’s had a dozen books written about him. He’s won all the prizes, been on all the juries — there’s nothing left but the crying. Only it’s Philadelphians who are doing the crying.
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:
Robert A.M. Stern turned in what many considered a subpar design for the Museum of the American Revolution. The building’s cupola, especially, was a subject of consternation; called “ham-fisted” and “Disneyesque” by critics, it was just one of several mawkish, neo-historical design notes that the Philadelphia Art Commission nixed when they told Stern to try again.
And so he did, and today the Inquirer has a piece that trumpets! the! success! of the new Commission-approved design (despite the fact that, in my opinion, it’s pretty much as crappy as the old one). The article, rather than reading like journalism, reads like a press release penned by the museum itself. I don’t know why that is, but I’m aware of the fact, shall we say, that the primary backer of the museum, Gerry Lenfest, is part-owner of the Inquirer; and Lew Katz, another part-owner of the Inquirer, is also a museum board member. (Both facts are disclosed in the Inquirer’s article). These facts could be coincidental, of course. Could be.
It’s not set in stone, but the redesign of the Museum of the American Revolution has received approval from Philadelphia’s Art Commission, which sent Robert A.M. Stern architects back to the drawing board last February. Can you spot the differences between the old design (above) and the new one below?:
Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin, who recently published an Inquirer piece about Robert A.M. Stern’s unappealing design for the Museum of the American Revolution (rendering above), has gone a step further in his opposition: He’s written a Declaration of Architectural Independence that serves as the basis for a petition on Change.org.
Those who sign the petition, which is directed to the City of Philadelphia Art Commission, “demand that the Commission use its full Power and Prestige to rectify this abominable design and replace it with one that will, in body and in spirit, embrace the City and the Revolution it purports to celebrate.”
The Declaration in full, below.
Designing Philadelphia’s newest museum has proven to be quite a process. Last month, for example, architect Robert A.M. Stern presented renderings of the Museum of the American Revolution to members of Philadelphia’s Art Commission. The commission–whose approval the architect must have before continuing the project–was not fond of said plans.
The building was cited as being bland, but since refashioning its architecture to be more consistent with nearby landmarks (Independence Hall and others of the like), Stern’s adherence to neighborhood character (which isn’t all it’s cracked up to be) comes off as a “willful blindness,” as Hidden City editor and novelist Nathaniel Popkin writes: