It houses the Philadelphia Parking Authority, the Philadelphia City Archives and the offices of some contractor, but we know it best as the entrance to Drexel’s “Garden Level” classrooms: 3101 Market St. It’s a monstrosity and should be demolished as soon as possible to make way for new and better developments.
Sure, we all hate more campus construction, but hear me out. There are many qualities that make a building a “good” one, but let’s start with some of the basics:
A good building should be mixed use. Different uses on different levels (shops on the ground level, apartments and offices above, for instance) lead to a building that has some kind of activity during all times of day.
A good building should “engage with the street” — that is, it ought to have a facade abutting the sidewalk and not recessed behind some enormous lawn, parking lot or vast expanse of concrete.
A good building should function well and be convenient for its users. This can be anything from well-functioning HVAC and elevators to adequate lighting to aesthetic concerns.
Well, everything that could be wrong with a building is wrong with 3101 Market. Instead of a facade that abuts the sidewalk, the building is recessed from the street, isolated by a giant surface parking lot. Pedestrians on Market Street are surrounded on all sides by cars, without any barriers to protect them from either insane drivers on the road or maniacs in the parking lot. There aren’t even any street trees!
This building does not “engage with the street.” In fact, it actively and aggressively denies the existence of the street. There is no ground-floor retail, there are few entrances facing the street, and there are no features to break up the monotonous facade. The whole block is completely devoid of any shade for pedestrians, which makes the walk unbearable in the summer. The JFK Boulevard facade is even worse, offering no entrances whatsoever.
Functionally, the building is a mess. The classrooms are two floors underground and can only be accessed by a seemingly endless corridor. Drexel calls these classrooms “the Garden Level” because the administration has a wholly sadistic sense of humor. Most of the building has no natural lighting, which is not only unpleasant but makes the building energy inefficient. Couple this with bland and windowless classrooms and the ever-present sound of the Market-Frankford Line echoing throughout the floor, and you realize that even these newly renovated areas are functionally deficient.
The facade transcends blandness to the point where it is actually offensive. It’s a gray brick wall all the way around, with no windows on the ground floor and only one small public entrance. There is generally nothing to even suggest that this is an occupied building, let alone one that actively holds offices and classrooms.
The building is an active assault on our campus: bland, boring and blatantly refusing to engage in any way with the street. In turn, it may discourage students from venturing farther than 31st Street from campus because the walk is so unpleasant.
There is, of course, no ground-floor retail, save for the Sovereign Bank on the corner of 31st and Market, done in matching gray brick. This is a shameful use of land, and it leads to our missing out on some significant real-estate potential. Market Street from 32nd to 30th Street Station is a natural location for a significant retail corridor: it’s already busy, it’s easily accessible by transit and car, it’s right next to a major railroad terminal, and it’s ripe for redevelopment. The only potential issue is that the land is currently zoned for industrial use, but Drexel has easily overcome this in the past; look at the recent rezoning for the proposed Lancaster Square. The monetization of this parcel is stupidly easy, so why hasn’t anyone built anything better here yet?
This building is right at the gateway to campus. Anyone coming from 30th Street Station has to see this building, as does anyone coming from I-76 and anyone walking from Center City to Drexel. Everyone has to look at and walk past 3101 Market at some point, and I’m certain that it’s a significant contributing factor to Drexel’s numerous “Ugliest Campus” awards.
Drexel has been focusing on shoehorning buildings between MacAlister Hall and Chestnut Street and demolishing the existing, occupied Hess labs to put up new student housing. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room, 3101 Market, remains standing. This would be a great place for, say, a couple 30-story towers with offices, classrooms and ground-floor retail. The construction would be on the periphery of campus and probably wouldn’t interfere too much with student life, unlike Chestnut Square and the new LeBow building. It’s a win-win situation, so I call upon our university’s president: Mr. Fry, tear down this building.