The Constitution Center: The Museum No One Cares About

Illustration by Nick Massarelli

When was the last time you were excited about the Constitution Center — the 160,000-square-foot behemoth of a tourist attraction on Independence Mall? We asked ourselves, our friends and some random folks that question. No one had an answer.

Sure, there was plenty of hopeful hoopla back at the center’s July 4, 2003, opening. There were dignitaries. And news cameras. And national raves at a time before the world had caught on that Philadelphia was cool. The New York Times gushed over the center’s “perfect union of function and form.” Read more »

What the Museum of the American Revolution Gets Wrong — and Right

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Some of the criticisms leveled at the city’s new Museum of the American Revolution have been architectural. The red-brick Georgian building at 3rd and Chestnut streets is architect Robert A.M. Stern’s modern spin on historic architecture, which some see as a retrograde design that betrays the museum’s progressive message. While it’s true that Stern’s work may be currently out of fashion, imagine the design disaster had a modernist like Frank Gehry signed off on the museum’s blueprints — Philadelphia might now be host to a building that resembled Marcel Duchamp’s (non-flush) Fountain. Read more »

This Punch Bowl Tells the Story of Old Philadelphia

Rebecca Yamin displays blue and white bowl from the 1760s

Rebecca Yamin, the lead archeologist on the excavation of the Museum of the American Revolution site, displays a reconstructed bowl from the 1760s that was found in a privy pit. | Photo: Dan McQuade

Rebecca Yamin first stepped onto the future site of the Museum of the American Revolution, at the corner of 3rd and Chestnut streets, in July 2014. She was both excited and scared.

“When you start at an urban site, it’s an amazing thing,” says Yamin, a well-respected urban archeologist with Commonwealth Heritage Group. “We told the museum it’s going to cost a lot of money. And then when I get on the site, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I’m not going to find anything. It’s such an embarrassment.’”

When it was all over, Yamin did not end up embarrassed. Yesterday the museum, slated to open in April 2017, took possession of 72 boxes of artifacts, inside of which were 82,000 pieces recovered from the site.

“I’m always surprised,” Yamin continues. “Certainly we were surprised to find something that was so relevant to the mission of the museum.” Read more »

Archaeologists Find Thousands of Artifacts in Old Philly Toilets

Archaeologists excavate a privy in Old City

Archaeologists Kevin Bradley and Kathryn Wood excavate a privy at the site of the future Museum of the American Revolution in Old City. (Photo courtesy Museum of the American Revolution)

Workers excavating at the site of the future Museum of the American Revolution over the past few years found quite a few historical artifacts in a place you might not expect to look for them: In the toilet.  Read more »

Opening Date for Museum of the American Revolution Set

Museum of the American Revolution rendering at night

A rendering of the finished building, currently under construction. | Photo courtesy Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of the American Revolution has an opening date.

Yesterday the museum, located at 3rd and Chestnut streets, announced it will open on April 19th, 2017. That will be the 242nd anniversary of “the shot heard ’round the world,” the date of the first battles in the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord.

The museum additionally announced that H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest — media entrepreneur, philanthropist and owner of Philadelphia Media Network — had donated $10 million to the museum. He had previously made gifts of a $40 million matching grant and $9 million in earlier commitments. Read more »

Drink Like an 18th Century Philadelphian at the Philadelphia History Museum

Illustration via Library Company of Philadelphia

Tun Tavern, an early Philadelphia drinking institution | Illustration via Library Company of Philadelphia

Have you ever caught yourself sitting in an old tavern thinking about how the wonderful concept of taverns came to be?

Well, tomorrow night from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. is “Tavern Talks” at the Philadelphia History Museum where Dr. Philip Mead, curator and historian of the Museum of the American Revolution, will talk all about late 18th century tavern culture  as well as a present related artifacts. The night will also include a tour of the museum’s American Revolution collection led by Kristen Froehlich, director of the collection.

Discounted tickets available »

Sign a 40-Foot Beam at the Museum of the American Revolution “Topping Off” Ceremony

Courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution

Courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution

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.

Read more »

Morning Headlines: Museum of the American Revolution Breaks Ground

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.

Read more »

Architype: A Stern Rejection

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The controversial rendering of Robert A.M. Stern’s design for the Museum of the American Revolution.

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.

Read more »

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