Saffron on Comcast Building’s Promise: “An Urban Icon for the Wired World”

The Inquirer's architecture critic has sky-high hopes for Norman Foster's new Center City tower.

comcast building interior

Screen shot of CITC interior taken from intro video.

Inga Saffron is excited. In the wake of the announcement of Comcast’s new 59-story tower at 18th and Arch — slated to open in 2017 as the tallest building in Philadelphia and the eighth-tallest in the U.S. — the Inquirer’s architecture critic has written a column that extols not so much the design of the media juggernaut’s skyscraper — which she says is not particularly innovative — but what it represents for architecture of the technology industry as a whole.

The skyscraper is tentatively called the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center (CITC), and will house engineers, programmers and other techies. Its urban location will be radical, says Saffron, who notes that

“America’s most glamorous tech companies” (read: Google) are typically “velvet prisons that offer employees endless supplies of vitamin water and protein bars, but require lengthy commutes in company caravans from San Francisco” (read: Google, though Google offers much more food). “There’s plenty of interaction inside the bubble,” Saffron notes, “but hardly any with the wider world” (read: oh, you know).

CITC is a spirited urban middle finger to that suburban cocoon. Saffron, it should be noted, says nothing about middle fingers, but she does say this:

Think of the towering waterfall of glass that was unveiled Wednesday as a skyscraper version of the great, light-filled factory lofts of the early 20th century, but wedged into the unpredictable heart of Center City atop the region’s densest transit hub…

Its second high-rise should be a glorious vertical atelier where employees can make a mess while they invent and build stuff.

In short, this is what the future of the growing Comcast campus at 18th and Arch Streets will look like: Suits to the east, hipster engineers in cutoffs and flip-flops to the west.

While I’m not so sure about the attire, as I suspect Comcast will be a bit more demanding with its dress code, the plan, should it succeed is has thrilling potential:

With this project, Comcast stands to reformulate the architectural imagery of the technology industry. An urban icon for the wired world has been long overdue. [Architect Norman] Foster’s design promises to provide it.

For more of Saffron’s thoughts:

Changing Skyline: A new symbol for technology [Inquirer]