Design opportunity on Market
Issue date: 1/23/09 Section: Ed-Op
Currently, anyone walking west from 34th Street is immediately accosted by a gray brick behemoth of a building, dulled by yet another surface lot, and then disappointed by the lack of interaction the fancifully-tiled Thomson Reuters building has with the passerby. One becomes thankful for the ubiquitous food trucks lining the street. Without them, there would be no presence on the street save for people using the sidewalk merely to get somewhere (anywhere) else. The issue of no active street usage fronting Market Street from 31st to 40th Street seems puzzling in an area that has one of only two subway lines in the entire city and a significant daytime population.
The Thomson Reuters building was designed by renowned Philadelphia architect Robert Venturi and exemplifies his "decorated shed" style. Such a building only requires an interesting envelope at the expense of ornate articulation; Venturi stated in his treatise, "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture," that he "like[d] elements which are hybrid rather than 'pure,' compromising rather than 'clean'…messy vitality over obvious unity."
Drexel officials mentioned that they do not plan to alter the façade of the building, which is commendable. That does not mean, however, that they should not take advantage of the avant-garde motif supplied by Venturi, and fashion a signature of their own to build on the structure's "messy vitality." If the façade is not to be altered, it could be used as a backdrop for lettering that could be illuminated at night - a dynamic and bold font used to announce the Antoinette Westphal College's presence in the building.
What should most definitely be altered is the landscaping bordering the sidewalk. Currently, medium-height trees abut the front of the property and are planted within an ivy moat that literally separates the building from the people. Drexel should seriously consider eradicating this feature and replacing it with creative and aesthetic outdoor social vignettes that would extend the building's design principles to the public domain.