They say that Philadelphians cannot survive on cheesesteaks alone, which is true. They also need roast pork and chicken cutlet sandwiches for a truly balanced diet. And no one knows that better than me: Born and raised in the city and a devout fan of all things Philly, I’ve spent much of my young life gazing upon its burgeoning skyline. With the AIA 2016 National Convention taking place in the City of Brotherly Love, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a Philadelphian if I didn’t highlight some of the things that architects—or any visitor—should appreciate about my hometown.
1. 30th Street Station: The city's primary train station is what most visitors see when visiting Philadelphia for the first or the hundredth time (and what most commuters see first thing in the morning). Designed by Chicago firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, it opened way back in 1933. It’s a cavernous structure where the clip-clop of thousands of train riders rings off the walls and ceilings of the Art Deco main concourse. Like a good chunk of the city, the station was quite depressing during my younger days. After its 1991 renovation by Dan Peter Kopple & Associates, it's now riding a renewed interest in public transit to become more than just a transfer point.
2. Philadelphia Museum of Art: You may know this as the home of the steps Rocky Balboa ran up in Rocky, but—surprise!—there’s an actual art museum at the top. Designed by Julian Abele, the most prominent African-American architect in the city’s history, and Howell Lewis Shay of Horace Trumbauer, it has housed artworks from around the globe since the museum opened at this location in 1928. Dubbed the “Parthenon on the Parkway” for its pediment-and-column-heavy front entrance overlooking Ben Franklin Parkway, its 227,000 objects reinforce Philadelphia’s reputation as a world-class city.
3. Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts: The Kimmel Center was approved in 1986 to replace the Academy of Music, but it didn’t officially open until 2001—and I recall its construction on South Broad Street throughout my teens. Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, it’s the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra and countless other theatrical and musical arts, from a Beatles cover band to Disney musicals. Moreover, it’s a striking building with copious amounts of windows that provide spectacular city views—a true beacon of fine design on one of the city’s main thoroughfares.
4. Comcast Center: A recent addition to the skyline, this skyscraper is the 19th tallest in the U.S. and the tallest in the city. Designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the 974-foot-tall, 58-story tower is the corporate headquarters of cable conglomerate Comcast and was certified LEED Gold in 2009 by the U.S. Green Building Council. It’s also a useful landmark when you’re sprinting through Center City in an effort to catch an early-morning train; the Amtrak station is only a few blocks away.
5. Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum: You won’t find these two on your map; they were demolished in 2004 and 2010, respectively. But for decades they defined sports in the city, housing the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, and 76ers. The Vet (as it was affectionately referred to) was a massive octorad, a shape intended to provide great sight lines, designed by Hugh Stubbins & Associates; it was also considered uninspired from day one. The Spectrum, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, had its roof blown off a year after opening. But for all their flaws, they were places where magic happened—and remain memorable to generations of fans.
6. Electric Factory: The Electric Factory is a concert venue that opened in 1994 in—you guessed it—a converted electric factory, which was (itself) a converted tire warehouse. It’s one of many unique theaters in Philadelphia, the city that gave the world the Roots, Bill Haley, the Dovells, and Hall & Oates. I saw Elvis Costello and the Imposters here in 2007, a career-spanning performance with three encores that remains one of the highlights of my young life, and musical history is still made here on a nightly basis.