The Radian is situated within the view of a McDonalds, a few upscale restaurants, a wide greenspace, and a cluster of high-rise student housing complexes. It is built with contested space in mind: it neither belongs to the medley of retail spaces that mark West Philadelphia nor to the flat academic buildings that are signature of University City. It gracefully blurs the line between these two frictional landscapes, while simultaneously upgrading the language of both.
Located on the 3900 block of Walnut Street, the Radian is a student housing-complex composed of 150 plus apartments, 500 beds, 40,000 square feet of retail space, and a host of environmental features. The Radian was envisioned by University Partners/Inland American Communities, designed by Erdy McHenry Architecture, and built by Intech Construction. The modular style of the Radian references the unit construction of dormitories, yet actively steers away from their hallmark rigidity. Architects studied living configurations in order to reconsider spatial units through a modular lens— creating a flexible system for understanding space. Apartments range from one bedroom to four, and are arranged differently on each floor. The fluid plan, allying a one bathroom apartment with a four bathroom apartment, creates random adjacencies and unexpected encounters. The connections forged inside the building, echoed outside by the medley of windows etched unto the facade, are quietly unified by the single white ribbon wrapping itself around the frame of the building.
The residential mass of the structure, elevated over the base, allows for daylight and striking neighborhood views to penetrate the windows of the Radian. The angular massing, named after the ratio between the length of an arc and its radius, enables the afternoon sun to reach the narrow street to the north. The building features both a green roof and a prefabricated rain screen facade. The 10,000 sqft green roof, designed by Pennoni Associates, acts as a storm-water management system— funneling water off impervious surfaces and into the garden, while controlling the release of excess water into Philadelphia’s combined sewer system. The retention basin is marked by the landscape above it, a simple grove of trees.
Previously, the site held a 1-story shopping center, a cramped internal corridor, a few fraternities, an unused movie theatre, and a pharmacy. In cacophonic disarray its memory has been sculpted and made purposeful: the retail plinth is made up of a series of storefronts that intentionally resurrect the street’s former silhouette by playfully undulating the vertical scale. Above it rises the residential tower, sharing space with Penn’s other high-rises just a few block away. The architects soften the 14 story leap through creating a series of spaces that guide visitors inside— the grove of trees in front of the Radian mirrors and extends the park across the street, evolving into an entrance that folds up and under the bulk of the building into the lobby, until finally, into the apartments above where the movement of windows across the façade align with shades of public and private spaces within— demarcating the important connection between the West Philadelphia street and the University City student housing. Although, perhaps the glass encased gym, hovering just feet above the ground, best tells us about the frictional landscape of West Philadelphia as residents and pedestrians alike watch one another pass.