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.