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Philadelphia

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2002.05.04
The Quaker City National Bank


2002.05.16
5233


2002.06.16 15:23
houses that morph...
...into something else
The Sessorian Palace, as it morphed over centuries from imperial home of Elagabalus to the baroque church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme today, is what started me thinking about houses that morph into something else. Such changes are not at all uncommon however, and any trip through inner urban areas, like North Philadelphia, for example, will present many former houses that are now either churches, or stores, or some other businesses. Houses that morph into something else are likewise not uncommon among the 88 Houses of Ill-Repute as presently featured at Quondam.


2002.06.18 17:49
Mount Pleasant (and a room of ill-repute)
One of the 88 Houses of Ill-Repute uploaded to day at Quondam is Mount Pleasant, a very fine Georgian Country Estate in what is today Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. In preparing this webpage I did a web search on Mount Pleasant to see if there were any interesting facts for inclusion with the Quondam presentation. As it happens, John McPherson, the first owner of Mount Pleasant (1760), was known for having only one arm, and that a one-armed ghost is sometimes seen at Mount Pleasant. I've been at Mount Pleasant a few times myself, obviously to take pictures recently (1998), but also as a student because we once had a project, a house for a scholar, whose site was just beyond Mount Pleasant's formal garden in the back. While the gardens are 'pleasant', I kind of remember that there was also something creepy about the place. If memory serves me correctly (and here I'm going back to Spring 1977), either I or someone else in the class saw a man in the gazebo which led from the garden to the project site, and then the man, who looked like a bum (and there often are bums that live in Fairmount Park), seemed to disappear, or at least he was very quickly gone. I'm now remembering that it was me that saw this man. I was alone doing 'site analysis', and when I noticed the man was gone, I went to see where he went, and there was no trace of the man. I can even kind of remember his face--he was looking right at me when I noticed him. And now if memory serves me correctly, I noticed that the gazebo was no longer there in 1998.
At the 'ghost' website there was also a story about a room within the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For those that do not know, the PMA has a quite impressive collection of period rooms, and apparently in one of the Elizabethan rooms a German woman/visitor was slapped in the face while no one else was in the room. She reported this the a security guard, and the 'slap' was verified by a security video tape. Although the video tape verification sounds dubious, as I don't remember seeing security cameras throughout the museum, the story in general somewhat coincides with another story about a specific Elizabethan room within the museum. In the book Triumph on Fairmount is the story that the founding director of the museum, Fiske Kimball, when he gave a tour of the period rooms, would refer to one of the Elizabethan rooms as "where Queen Elizabeth I was conceived"--apparently the walls of the room came from the house where King Henry VIII used to 'meet' Anne Boleyn.
So, is Anna Boleyn today a slap-happy ghost in Philadelphia? Or, is Henry VIII perhaps reenacting some rough sex? Or, is QEI demonstrating some pre-natal dislike of Germans? Or is all this a too weird wavelength???

2002.06.23 13:01
Re: genetic architecture
John Young wrote:
Don't miss a chance to sharpen your design skills by exploring, spelunking, a dangerous work of architecture on the verge of collapse...(and then went on to more or less specify the fate of the WTC as code compliant hazard).
Steve remembers:
Going to Stotesbury Mansion (really named Whitemarsh Hall) in the early-mid 1970s was very much "exploring, spelunking, a dangerous work of architecture on the verge of collapse." Maybe my design skills got some sharpening there.
Here's a few images of Stotesbury very much the way I remember it--it was a sort of personal quest for me to at least get into every room of the place, thus many visits--only went into one of its three basements, however; rumor had it that the bottom two basements were flooded out. The art treasures of the Metropolitan Museum of Art were stored here during World War II.


2002.06.30
5233


2002.07.08 18:44
Re: Orwellian Image
An interesting inversion of Bentham's Panopticon design, is Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia (c. 1828, slightly post Bentham's Panopticon ideas/drawings). Eastern State is often hailed as the first modern prison. It's original radial cell block design accommodated many rows of individual cells where inmates were held in solitary confinement to commune with God (according to Quaker principles). Each cell had a small oculus in its vault ceiling for natural light, indoor plumbing (unlike most houses at that time), and an outdoor courtyard for daily, although still completely private, exercise. Meals were delivered to the inmates via a slot in the cell door.
The solitary confinement "experiment" failed miserably, and Eastern State soon became just like all the other prisons we know today. Seems that even when it is only God watching, it still doesn't do much good.
One could say that Freud created a whole other kind of human surveillance. I for long have thought that what really bothered Freud was knowing that his mother was not still a virgin after Freud was born. Had she remained post-natally virginal, Freud would surely have been the true Jewish Messiah. Alas, Freud never did know his mother as a virgin, so he played Almighty creator instead by dividing man into three parts, ego, id, and super-ego, just like the Christian God, Freud's real nemesis, is divided into three persons.
Inspiration for the above idea came about 20 years ago when I read an essay by Schorske in the book Fin-De-Siecle Vienna. (I don't have the book anymore because a drunk, sleepwalking friend of mine took a middle of the night piss on it back in 1987. I'm not kidding, and the next sentence will tell you why I want you to believe I'm not kidding.) The essay focused on a particular/peculiar relationship between Freud and his father--I remember something about Freud having a recurring dream where he is holding up a urinal for his father to pee in. After reading several pages of father-son, father-son, father-son, I found myself asking, "So where is the Holy Ghost?" That's when it hit that there was no Holy Ghost in Freud. My first instinct was to try and figure out how to make some good intellectual joke out of all this, and in that process is where I came up with the post-natal-virginity-envy idea. A few years later I read "Italian Freud" in October 28, within which I learned of Freud visceral 'fear' of Rome when he first went gen Italia, to Italy that it. It's only when I remember stories like this that I kind of wish I was young again.

2002.07.19 17:00
WTC Panoramas (and history)
Nic wrote:
I visit only when implored by out of town guests. I wonder how many NYers haven't necessarily turned their backs on the event or the place, but find the circus there repugnant. Most everyone I know never visits. It is becoming a place for others to consume.
Steve observes:
These exact words could (have) be(en) used by myself with respect to the truly historic sites of downtown Philadelphia, that is, until I began to understand the real meaning of quondam. I've come to realize that the national historic sites of downtown Philadelphia as they have become enshrined are nonetheless going through a continual process of erasure and palimpsest via simulacra and (indeed) reenactment.
Do I like it the way it is at Historic Philadelphia now? No, not entirely. But I do think it is important for me to now be much more aware of what is going on 'down there.' I know you probably all think that I'm crazy about reenactment, and that it is some kind of great realization about design and how design operates, which is true in that that is how I feel. But, what I think is not so well understood, is that I am still trying to understand reenactment at the same time that I write (to you) about it. I have only a very small idea what the best solution for the 9/11 site in NYC is, especially with regard to it now being a tourist destination. I do know, however, what I would 'design' for Independence Hall, and that is to periodically have many State representatives come to Philadelphia on July Fourth, and just sit and talk for a while where the original State delegates sat. That way I and many others might just have a 'real' better idea of what it was like to be in Philadelphia on 4 July 1776.
I wonder what the NYC 9/11 site will be like 226 years from now?


2002.07.20
5233


2002.08.06 12:51
the junkspace of Girard Avenue
One forthcoming aspect of "Learning From Girard Avenue" will be a featuring of Girard Avenue's junkspace.
Junkspace, a term coined by Rem Koolhaas circa early 2000, is definitely a component of today's Girard Avenue.
Koolhaas attempted to focus the discussion at In Your Face (NYC, 29 September 2001) on junkspace, that is, after he very obviously moved himself and his chair towards the center of the stage (and away from being too close to Venturi and Scott Brown). The attempt more or less failed, thus leaving Koolhaas more or less (seemingly bitterly) speechless the rest of the symposium. One member of the audience is at least on record reviling Koolhaas for his basically saying that much of the USA today is 'junk'.

Although I agree that junk usually isn't pretty, if not often pretty ugly, junkspace itself is something that can be found in just about every USA home. Maybe junkspace in the outside world is really just a reflection of how US Americans personally live.
I'm scheduled to soon re-read Koolhaas' Junkspace--it's at least 1.5 years since I last read it. I'm now curious if Fresh Kills Landfill is ever mentioned.

2002.08.06 13:11
Somewhat Incompletely Louis I. Kahn
In doing some research/reading yesterday, I found that Louis Kahn proposed marriage to Esther Israeli at Philadelphia's Rodin Museum. Anyone that has every visited the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia will surely remember the enormous and wonderful Gates of Hell as one enters the museum.


2002.08.06
Roosevelt Boulevard
Pennypack Woods     1943 4033
Pennypack Store Building     1944 4035
Pennypack Administration Building     1944 4036
Russo Park Playground Building


2002.08.08
Samuel Radbill Building     1954
Pincus Occupational Therapy Building     1954


2002.08.09
Ahavath Israel     1937
Erdman Hall
Mill Creek Project, Phase 1     1956
Mill Creek Project, Phase 2     1963
Richards Medical
Oser House     1942 4032


2002.08.09 15:20
Re: Congregation or Synagogue ?
I revisited Ahavath Israel today, and sadly the facade has been changed, I was told circa 2000. The whole portion of the facade above the recessed entry is no longer brick, but now a salmon colored, textured CMU. This is yet another building to have changed since I last took pictures of it.
It dawned on me last night that both Wright's Beth Sholom and Kahn's Adath Jeshurun are hugely triangular in plan. Wright mailed the preliminary drawings to Rabbi Mortimer Cohen on 15 March 1954. Kahn's design is dated 1954-55. Since Beth Sholom and Adath Jeshurun are neighboring congregations, it wouldn't surprise me at all if architectural rivalry between the congregations was going on, and that Kahn even saw the Wright plans before he came up with his design. Has anyone heard of this possible connection before?


2002.08.10 12:31
Re: graffiti
Michael wrote:
I was astonished by the new wave of graffiti in Sweden and Germany. Everywhere, even in the countryside, on bridges, tunnels, sides of buildings facing the railroad tracks and highways. I see beginnings of its reappearance in the US as well.
Steve adds:
Michael's use of the word 'reappearance' immediately reminds me of how much graffiti there used to be in the US (for me specifically Philadelphia). Michael might also be right about a 'reappearance' now occurring, because when I see graffiti here now (like in semi-remote places as Michael describes) I think to myself, "Now that's something I haven't seem in a long time." Mind you, I still don't see it that often.
Although never as 'famous' as New York City graffiti, Philadelphia was full of graffiti in the late 1960s through the 1970s. What happened as reaction, however, is now something of an 'institution'--the 'anti-graffiti' mural projects. Apparently, there are now more urban murals in Philadelphia than anyplace else in the world. They can be found everywhere, especially within 'poorer' neighborhoods (which more or less accounts for at least half of Philadelphia proper these days, and, more specifically, where you can find many, many blank sides of buildings due to ever increasing gap-tooth housing stock). From the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s these mural projects have taken on a very grand scale in terms of size and in terms of exhibiting talent and design. Almost every mural here now is indeed public art.
My favorite mural still has to be the one on 5th Street a few blocks south of the Roosevelt Blvd. that was painted spontaneously by Lotus and Dan Past Bird from noon 11 September 2001 to about noon 12 September 2001.

2002.08.10 12:47
Re: church plans (was synagogues)
While what P. says about 'sacred' sites remaining 'sacred' no matter what the religion (my take on the phenomenon, actually) is true, it is nonetheless worth noting that concerning Christian churches in the city of Rome, for several centuries all Pagan (temple) sites were strictly avoided as sites of Christian churches. The first pagan temple of Rome to be converted to a church is the Pantheon, but that didn't occur until the very early 600s. The story goes that some catacombs were caving in and that gathered remains of the fallen catacombs were deposited at the Pantheon, hence the buildings present name of Holy Mary of the Martyrs. If you believe in the Last Judgment, the Pantheon will surely be a 'watershed'.
In a more current situation, what was Congregation Ahavath Israel is today Grace Temple Church, Inc. (Talk about having it all.)


2002.08.11 10:44
Kahn and Wright
Here is excerpt from Louis I. Kahn: In The Realm of Architecture (1997) with some commentary following:
on pages 79-80: Documented evidence of ties between Wright and Kahn is slight. His connection with Henry Klumb (1904-1985), a former associate of Wright's and a staunch supporter of his ideals, is noted in chapter 1. In 1952 Kahn and Wright both attended a convention of the American Institute of Architects, in 1955 (as previously noted) Kahn praised Wright's early work, and when Wright died in 1959 Kahn wrote in tribute [published in Architecture Record], "Wright gives insight to learn / that nature has no style / that nature is the greatest teacher of all / The ideas of Wright are the facets of his single thought." Scully recalls that later that same year Kahn made his first visit to a Wright building, the S.C. Johnson and Son Administration Building (1936-39), where, "to the depths of his soul, [he] was overwhelmed."
It is curious in that the Scully quotation (from Scully's book Louis I. Kahn (1962)) seems to harbor a mistake, a distancing, and/or perhaps even an intentional fabrication. I, for one, find it hard to believe that Louis Kahn never visited Beth Sholom prior to late 1959, thus I doubt very much that it is true that the first Wright building Kahn visited was the S.C. Johnson building in Wisconsin. Now I have to wonder about Scully and Brownlee/DeLong (authors of Louis I. Kahn: In The Realm of Architecture). Was Scully or even Kahn(!) fabricating a false history that would distance Kahn safely away from being suspected of having ever been really influenced by Wight? And why did Brownlee/DeLong not notice and/or correct what appears to be just plain false? The only real reason I'm pointing all this out is that I believe it is much more valuable to know how designs really came about rather than how they really didn't come about.
This leads me to bring up the anecdote R. shared here as to what Wright said to Venturi about Kahn, i.e., "Beware an architect with one idea." If Wright said this to Venturi circa 1955 (date of Beth Sholom construction), then the "one idea" Wright was speaking of may well be the Yale Art Gallery (1950-53). The Yale building is the first to get Kahn wide recognition, particularly for its triangulated ceiling structures, a structure, moreover, that Kahn further investigated in the second scheme of Adath Jeshurun. Furthermore, the second scheme of Adath Jeshurun is remarkably similar diagrammatically to the stairwell plan within the Yale Art Gallery, i.e., a triangle within a circle.
Could it be that Venturi told Kahn what Wright said, and that is perhaps why Kahn wrote "The ideas of Wright are the facets of his single thought"?

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