Inga Saffron Weighs In on the GlaxoSmithKline Building at the Navy Yard

At last, as of April 6, the GlaxoSmithKline building at the Navy Yard was officially open for business, which means it’s high time for the Inquirer’s architecture critic Inga Saffron to weigh in on the building, which was designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

From a workplace perspective, the building is a grand experiment for this region. With sofas, chairs and tables, private workrooms, but nary a cubicle, employees can sit wherever they like to get their work done. There are no assigned seats, as it were–Saffron calls is a “grown-up-free zone” where “employees float around like squatters.”

The same number of employees fit into a quarter of the space GSK had in Center City (soon to be a part of the High School of the Performing Arts), but it works because of the way things are laid out. Saffron says the interior space–“blasted with natural light and jelly-bean colors” and designed by John B. Campbell of Francis Cauffman–has a sort of boho loft feel to it.

Saffron likes the building and this unconventional (for Big Pharma, especially) approach to workplace design.

Mayor Nutter has said that the Navy Yard is one of Philadelphia’s underrated triumphs–and with this building, it takes another grand step forward in terms of innovation. But Saffron worries that retreating from city streets will mean a loss of vitality–of “serendipitous experiences and encounters that stimulate our imaginations.”

Do pharmaceutical companies require stimulating environments in order to do their work? The company must think so, or they wouldn’t have chosen this innovative design for a new building. Saffron’s appreciation for the light-filled design does not outweigh her concerns for the migration of corporations away from downtowns.

Changing Skyline: Glaxo’s new building carries big implications [Changing Skyline/]