Context - Winter 2015 - (Page 24)
owner: trustees of the university of Pennsylvania
owner rePresentatives: facilities and real estate Services, Perelman School of Medicine
architect, towers c and d, Phase 1: eyP architecture & engineering
architect, towers c and d, Phase 2: atkin olshin Schade architects
construction manager: intech construction
under construction, ca. 1960
WINTER 2016 | context | AIA Philadelphia
In 2012, the repair and stabilization of one of the majestic brick walls of Louis Kahn's Richards Medical Research
Laboratories Building was one of the many projects in
the construction frenzy that characterizes summer at the
University of Pennsylvania.
We were addressing serious bulges and visibly growing
misalignments, at the root of which was the usual litany of
afflictions of mid-century reinforced concrete: poorly placed
reinforcing rods, twisted and rusted relieving angles, and,
especially, inadequate and even absent expansion joints.
We had instructed the contractors to carefully remove and
retain the bricks from the repair locations, and to chip off
the mortar from each to allow their reuse. (Kahn's specified
bricks - Sayre and Fisher, shade #7672 - which he used
throughout his career, are no longer available, and their
color and size are difficult if not impossible to duplicate.)
All standard practice for us, although with particularly high
stakes given the importance of the building.
Mid-project, I got an exasperated call from a wonderful
colleague, one in a position of considerable academic and
institutional authority, who asked, in essence: "Why bother?
Wouldn't it be cheaper and faster to use any brick you can
get?" I should add that this caller, earlier in his distinguished
career, had performed research in a Richards lab, and he
had essentially zero affection or respect for it as a functional
science building, let alone as a work of architecture.
I inhaled sharply.
And then I cautiously responded: One, we'd try to match
the materials when repairing any building. Two, we were
fortunate to have a small stash of replacement bricks, a
perfect match salvaged from another building, which meant
that the labor of chipping mortar would be far less than he
might imagine. Three, Richards was, since 2009, a National
Historic Landmark, a designation of supreme importance.
Okay, the caller said. I exhaled. The contractor continued
to chip off mortar.
This anecdote captures the two major difficulties
associated with the preservation, rehabilitation and reuse
of mid-century modern buildings: daunting technical
challenges, and - there's no other way to say it - lack of
sympathy, if not outright hostility.
I should be clear that, as an institution, despite
undeniable and probably inevitable pockets of disaffection,
BY DAVID HOLLENBERG
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Context - Winter 2015
Philadelphia’s Everyday Modernism
Truly and Unobtrusively Modern: Chestnut Hill Architecture of the Twentieth Century
2015 Design Awards
Index to Advertisers
Context - Winter 2015