Saturday, 25 September 2010
Wednesday 1 September – a new month, a new city – Philadelphia. We actually had a couple of hours off in the train between the two cities. Accommodation in the efficient and pleasing Lowes Hotel – a converted modernist skyscraper done with considerable panache. A walk around the historic bits with local architect James Kruhly.
The new Liberty Bell Visitor Center (by Bohlin Cywinski and Jackson - 2003) and several of the old churches and other buildings affording memories of what we call the American War of Independence but is known localy as the Revolutionary War. The Liberty Bell has a more prosaic association with London - it was cast in the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (Visited by the Company some years ago) in 1752 and then shipped to Philly where it carcked on first ringing. No wonder they opted to go thier own way!
Much of the feeling about the historic part of the City seemed reassuringly British. The visit included Carpenters’ Hall (shown right) – still home of the Company of Carpenters of Philadelphia who enjoy close a relationship with the Carpenters’ Company of London. Indeed James Kruhly was the exchange lecturer in London earlier in the year.
Dinner at Ye Olde Tavern complete with serving wenches, Martha Washington’s Turkey Pie and Jefferson’s Home brewed Ale. All that might be expected.
Thursday 2 September – Accompanied James Kruhly – to whom many thanks, to Louis Khan’s Richards Laboratory building at University of Pennsylvania. Jim is formally engaged on reversing the vandalism of a few generations on this building which boasts pioneering glazing (all looking a bit tired) and interesting use of horizontal virendeel trusses. It will be good to revisit in a year or so when the original vision will be more obvious.
More Lou Khan (you will note that we are getting onto first name terms now) at the Erdman dormitory block at Bryn Mawr College (above left)) which proved controversial among the group – particularly in relation to the detailing. Might just prove depressing in winter but generations of residents have generally voted in favour and there were some nice touches.
Then followed a visit to the very quirky Wharton Esherick House in Malvern (above right) where the eponymous artist and sculptor lived and worked on painting, carving and making furniture into his old age. His motto, “if it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing,” is evident in the joyful expression of his work which was inviting to the eye and sensuous to the touch. The complex even boasted a Louis Khan studio. A delightful spot and a fascinating visit.
A final visit for the day to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Beth Shalom Synagogue built in Elkins Park in the 1950’s. Described as ‘a startling, translucent, modernist evocation of an ancient temple, transposed to a Philadelphia suburb’, the building was named a National Historic Landmark in 2007. I had been predisposed to be unimpressed (from photographs and writings) but felt better about it after watching a movie in the visitor centre relating to the commissioning of the building. I still feel that it is far from the best from the great man though the auditorium was a wonderfully shaped space even if garishly decorated. Good to have seen it.