Record Reveals: Cecil Baker on Philadelphia
In preparation for the 2016 AIA Convention, Architectural Record asks local architects about their Philadelphia favorites.
President, Cecil Baker + Partners
Cecil Baker established his Philadelphia-based firm in 1982, which provides services to governmental, educational, institutional, and private sector clients, including feasibility studies, programming, design of new structures, adaptive reuse of existing structures, and interior design. Baker’s firm is the recipient of more than fifty regional and national design awards. Born and raised in Argentina, Baker came to the United States in 1959 to attend Williams College. He received his M.Arch. from the University of Pennsylvania, studying under Louis Kahn. Prior to the formation of Cecil Baker + Partners in 1982, he and three others established the building and development enterprise BRHB Developers. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University and lectured at other institutions of higher learning.
Best New Architecture
The Singh Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s a very bold piece of architecture, exciting not just for its geometry but also for the way it embraces the street. I appreciate the choice of materials – rendering an unabashedly contemporary fluency. It flaunts a structural muscularity, while the landscape architecture invites the viewer in.
Best Historic Architecture
United Fund Building, 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It’s not technically historic, but I’ve always loved this building since I saw it go up shortly after I arrived in Philadelphia in the 60s. I think this is Romaldo Giurgola’s best building. It’s the most carefully conceived and most beautifully detailed of his concrete buildings. You can see the care and the beauty in how it manifests its joinery. I always talk about how an architect’s job is to respond to a site – I call it the “persuasion of place” – and this building absolutely belongs on this site.
Best Restaurants and Bars
August, located in the East Passyunk neighborhood, and Radicchio Café, located on the edge of Old City. These are both longtime favorites of mine. They’re neighborhood restaurants with a real European feel to them – elegant yet without frills. They serve Italian food done very nicely, and you always see interesting people there. Plus, neither one is overly loud.
Morris House Hotel. This boutique hotel on South 8th Street is composed of a collection of historic Colonial buildings situated around a courtyard with a very beautiful garden. I always recommend that people stay here.
Best Museums and Galleries
The Bridgette Mayer Gallery features a preeminent display of contemporary art, introducing new exhibitions every other month. It’s located on the ground floor of a historic building on Walnut Street. Cecil Baker + Partners had the privilege to design the space.
The collection at The Barnes Foundation is unbelievable. I like to see one room per visit, because there is so much to see. The building itself is very beautiful, and I especially admire the integration of the landscape design.
Philadelphia is an amazingly rich city with unique, demarcated neighborhoods. The resurgence of some of these neighborhoods is a manifestation of the millennial impact–in places like Fishtown and parts of West Philly, for example. But then that’s offset by more traditional, urbane areas like Society Hill or Washington Square West. We’ve always known ourselves as a city of neighborhoods, but the variety and creativity is really blossoming right now.