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Explore Philadelphia's architectural treasures with AIA Philadelphia's Building Finder. Use your laptop or desktop computer to peruse the many different architectural styles found within the city limits, or use your smartphone to create an impromptu architectural tour of the city. AIA Philadelphia Members are encouraged to login to the site and provide commentary on the buildings found in the Building Finder, creating an untold history of Philadelphia's most recognized buildings. For a more in-depth look at Philadelphia's iconic architecture, visit the AIA Bookstore and Design Center to purchase a copy of Philadelphia Architecture: A Guide to the City, published by the Center for Architecture.
Philadelphia Saving Fund Society Building
12 South 12th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Date Constructed: 1930-32
Architect(s): Howe and Lescaze; renovated 2008 Bower Lewis Thrower
Participating AIA Philadelphia Members: BLT Architects
When PSFS decided to build a new headquarters, the directors chose a site near the Reading Terminal and Wanamaker’s department store, where the already had a successful branch bank. George Howe was retained as architect. Howe had a national reputation for his pastoral suburban houses but recently had become an advocate of the International style emerging in Europe.
PSFS marked Howe’s break with his past. He left Mellor and Megis and entered into a partnership with William Lescazw, a Swiss architect. Together they designed the first International style skyscraper in the country. James Wilcox, president of the bank, supported the design and persuaded the conservative board to accept it.
PSFS is a masterpiece. It is the finest 20th century building in the city and one of the most important examples of the International style in the country. The exterior form is a sophisticated expression of the different functions within the building. The base contains a retail store on the first floor, with the banking room located above, following Ritter and Shay’s successful use of a similar arrangement in the Market Street National Bank building. Bank offices above are set back from the façade of the office tower, which rises to a complicated roof structure and prominent sign. At the rear of the building, elevator shafts and service elements form a separate unit. To emphasize further the contrasting elements of the design, different materials and colors were used. Highly polished gray and granite used for the base; sand-colored limestone is used for the façade of the bank offices. The office tower has exposed vertical columns covered with the same limestone and gray brick spandrels. The huge rear wall of the service core is made of glazed and unglazed black brick.
Even though PSFS was built at the height of the Great Depression, expensive materials and furnishings were used throughout. The stainless steel hardware and most of the furniture were custom designed by the architects, as there was no inventory of modern fixtures in the United States. This was also the second building n the country to be air conditioned. The most dramatic interior space was the high-ceilinged banking room. Subdued colors; stainless steel; and gently curved balconies give the room an exceptional quality. The PSFS building was beautifully maintained by the bank. However, in 1992 PSFS was purchased by another bank which became insolvent. The building remained vacant for many years until it was converted to a hotel. The main banking room became the ballroom and the 33rd floor board room and enclosed terrace were retained in their original character.
244 South 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Date Constructed: 1765
The Powel House is the finest Georgian row house in the city. It was built by Charles Stedman. Before he could live in it, he sold it to Samuel Powel, the first mayor of Philadelphia after the revolution.
Powel was a Quaker who later turned Anglican. This change can be seen in his house. The restrained exterior reflects the Quaker concern for simplicity. The brick façade is Flemish bond, with cheaper common bond on the side. The only decoration is the Doric frame surrounding the door. Inside, restraint gives way gives way to luxurious rooms decorated with fine paneling, elaborate carving, and delicate plastic work.
The plan of the house is quite sophisticated compared to the typical town house. The front door enters into a generous hall. The parlor and dining rooms are to one side, and at the rear, framed by a large arch, is an open mahogany staircase. A ballroom with elaborate woodwork and plaster ceilings is on the second floor.
11th and Market streets
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Architect(s): Bower Lewis Thrower and John Milner Associates; Train Shed renovated 1993-94, Cope Linder Associates, The Wilson Brothers; Head House renovated 1985, Thompson Ventulett Stainback Associates and Vitetta Group
Participating AIA Philadelphia Members: BLT Architects, , Cope Linder Architects, VITETTA
The Reading Railroad was created in 1840 to bring coal and iron from western Pennsylvania. The railroad also provided passenger service to many areas north and west of the city. When steam locomotives eliminated the fear of fire from wood-burning engines, the Reading built an inner-city terminal on a site occupied by the Franklin Farmers’ Market since 1860. The market was given space under the train shed, where it remains today.
The terminal is actually two buildings: the Head House, which contained waiting rooms and offices, and the shed covering the train platforms.
The Head House is constructed of wrought- and cast-iron columns, wrought-iron and steel beams and brick floors. Its Italian Renaissance exterior was applied over the structural system by a consulting architect, Frank Kimball of New York. Ornate cream-colored terra cotta details are set off by pale pink walls and framed by a heavy copper cornice.
The shed is the only surviving single span, arched train shed in the country. It was the largest single-span structure in the world when completed. Trains stopped using the shed after the commuter rail tunnel was completed in 1984. To preserve this important engineering landmark, the shed was incorporated into the design of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The ballroom, meeting rooms, and grand hall are located on several levels under a spectacular skylight in the shed roof.