From the Architects’ Newspaper:
Pearl Properties hired local Interface Studio Architects to renovate the granary in 2007 and find a way to adapt it as a mixed-use development that would join a wave of new projects in the surrounding neighborhood. The building posed an exciting challenge for Brian Phillips, founding partner of ISA. The first two floors and a penthouse level are separated by a grid of 72 six-story grain silos, making 80 percent of the structure uninhabitable. “A building like this has very little future if you can’t change it, in our opinion,” Phillips said.
But ISA’s ambitious proposal was panned by The Philadelphia Inquirer and by preservationists such as the Preservation Alliance, who saw the plan as hostile to an important piece of Philadelphia’s industrial heritage. “Our reaction when he showed us the proposal was extremely negative,” said John Gallory, president of the Preservation Alliance.
Pearl Properties president Jim Pearlstein, who did not respond to requests for comment, is now planning a minor renovation that preserves the essential structure of the granary as-is. He has dropped ISA from the project, according to the architects, and will be hiring another firm to design condominiums on a lot adjacent to the granary.
Ironically, Interface Studio is the firm that I learned about last year based on a tip from Inga Saffron, architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer. When doing my research, I learned that the two original Interface Studio partners had parted ways – with Brian Phillips taking the architecture practice (Interface Studio Architects) and Scott Page keeping the original name (Interface Studio) for an urban design practice. I had a brief e-mail exchange with Scott and we expressed mutual admiration for the work that our firms were doing.
I recently came across two sectional moments in the city worthy of promotion. The first – located on the anomalous block of Boylston on the far side of Mass Ave – is an ingenious solution for separating the café zone from pedestrian traffic. Given the extra-wide sidewalk dimension, the plan is split in section with a continuous, block-long, raised plinth for al fresco seating (the ends are sloped to meet the sidewalk at grade). Even better, there are T-shaped ramps at staggered moments along the plinth, allowing for accessibility at intermediate points. It also struck me that this continuous platform might double as an impromptu stage for the Berklee students that populate the block!
In the shadow of City Hall is another super-sectional moment designed to negotiate the steep slope along State Street between Washington Street and Congress Street. Carved out of the extra-wide urban staircase are nicely-scaled seating niches with benches that face each other. If the thoughtful plantings and conversation nooks weren’t enough for you, there’s also a water feature fully integrated into the staircase to help set the mood. I’d like to believe this an effort to fully expose strategies for stormwater management, but its unlikely.