Inga Saffron

Architecture Critic, Philadelphia Inquirer


Best Architecture (New and Old)

Having graced the cover of Architectural Record, Philadelphia’s best new building, the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, is already at the top of many must-see lists. But as long as you’re heading over to the university district (three stops from City Hall on the Market-Frankford line), why not make a quick circuit of the neighborhood’s greatest hits? Start with the Singh, at 33rd and Walnut. After admiring the dramatic switchbacks of the glass outcrop, ask an accommodating grad student to give you a tour of the dramatic second-floor terrace, which cantilevers out over the rushing flow of students on Walnut Street. 

Then head northwest to check out Drexel University’s URBN Center for Arts and Design at 3501 Market Street, housed in a fine, lesser known, designs by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Originally the Institute of Scientific Information, the building with the punch-card façade was designed to demonstrate the infinite flexibility of the decorated shed. Their famous theory was vindicated in spades in 2012 when Minneapolis-based MS&R converted the office building’s interior into an exhilarating puzzle-space of classrooms and studios for Drexel.

From there, double-back to 36th and Walnut Street to take in Fumihiko Maki’s 2009, glass take on the Collegiate Gothic style at the Annenberg Public Policy Center on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Continue a few more blocks south to 3700 Hamilton Walk, and you’ll be rewarded with a very different take on the Gothic, Louis Kahn’s famous Richards Medical Research Labs, which have just been renovated and converted into dry labs and offices. Finally, end your tour with Frank Furness’ masterpiece, the Fisher Fine Arts Library near 34th and Walnut. Be sure to poke your head into the trippy Victorian reading room. 


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