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Brutalist Icon in Philadelphia Under Threat

Philadelphia's award winning police headquarters, called "the Roundhouse", has received a belated 50th birthday present: the threat of demolition.
March 26, 2013, 12pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Nicole Anderson brings news that the Brutalist "Roundhouse", designed by architectural firm, Geddes, Brecher, Qualls, and Cunningham (GBQC), and recipent of the American Institute of Architects’ Gold Medal Award for Best Philadelphia Architecture in 1963, has become the latest icon from the controversial period of architectural history to face an uncertain future. With the city planning to relocate the police department to a renovated building on Market Street, Mayor Nutter has announced plans to sell the unique building, with the site having been previously identified as likely for redevelopment.  

Philadelphia's design and preservation community isn't taking the threat lying down, however. "Right now, graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania’s Historic Preservation Graduate Program have teamed up with Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture to come up with different reuse strategies for the Roundhouse," says Anderson. "Two graduate students at UPenn, Kimber VanSant and Allee Berger, have launched a campaign, Save the Roundhouse, on Facebook."

In a column last month, the Philadelphia Inquirer's architectural critic Inga Saffron argued for the building's design merits. "With its sinuous, double-barreled profile, washboard abs and sculptural details, it has real style, which is more than you can say for many of today's bland, glass towers," she opined. "Our eyes and taste change. You might not like the Roundhouse now. But I predict you will - assuming it survives."

"Berger and VanSant plan on pursuing landmark status for the building," adds Anderson, "but fear that with a backlog of nominations waiting for approval at the Philadelphia Historical Commission, time might run out before the city’s development gets underway. The two preservationists are also concerned that city officials have misrepresented the condition of the building."

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Published on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 in The Architect's Newspaper Blog
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