Monday, October 27, 2008

Then and Now: Northeast corner of 4th and South, Philadelphia


It is well known that there are few streets in Philadelphia as storied as South Street, and its a history that I could not to justice to at this moment. Suffice it to say, its ability to reinvent itself and its resilience to destruction under the pressures of 20th century urban planning and economics are truly remarkable. At the time of the original photo, South Street's entire existence was threatened by emerging plans for the Crosstown Expressway. The victory of neighborhood groups in their fight against the project is well known and deservedly revered. Though the strip has lost much of its bohemian flair since then (note the Starbucks), it remains one of the city's liveliest and most beloved streets.

As of now, the South Street Headhouse District's streetscape project is nearing completion. Entirely new streetlights (visible above), sidewalks, and street trees have been put into place, and will ensure that South Street has many great years to come.

A History of I-695 [Philly Roads]

Original Photo: Carollo, R. "Historic Commission-50503-0." 1963. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 26 Oct. 2008.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Then and Now: the Aldine Theater, 19th and Chestnut, Philadelphia

Sorry about the long break; I was away from the computer traveling up the East Coast for a week. I'll start writing more as soon as I can. Promise. In the meantime, here's a quick then and now:


The corner of 19th and Chestnut certainly had a lot more pizazz in the '20s, back when movie palaces thrived throughout the city. The other renown theater on Chestnut street, the Boyd, has been awaiting restoration and development for years, though plans are in the works to incorporate it into a new hotel complex. Even though the current occupant of what was once the Aldine may not be particularly exciting, the building remains at the very least functional and well-preserved on the exterior. Plus, nowadays a film like The Singing Fool would be somewhat politically put it very lightly.

More on the Aldine [ PhillyHistory ]
New hope for the Boyd [ Philadelphia Inquirer]

Original Photo: Gee, William A. “Public Works -26141-0-A.” 1928. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 20 Oct. 2008.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Then and Now: 10th and Arch looking east


Clearly, the last 94 years haven't been the greatest for the 900 block of Arch Street and in fact most of Center City east of Broad Street. Most of what wasn't lost to abandonment and neglect (like the buildings on this block) met the wrecking ball in the name of urban renewal. Consequently, little remains of the heart of downtown's old commercial and industrial core, and vestiges of its illustrious Gilded Age past have all but disappeared.

Original Image: “Historic Commission – PAB-755230-0-B.” 1914. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 5 Oct. 2008.

Then and Now: 16th and Market looking west


To anyone unfamiliar with Philadelphia's 20th century history the above photo can be pretty misleading. The intense development of the Market West office district over the past 50 years took place during the worst years of the city's overall decline.

Original Image: “Department of City Transit-39750-0.” 1959. Philadelphia City Archives. Philadelphia Department of Records. 5 Oct. 2008.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Model Homes - 樣品屋

No matter how much one loves Taipei, it's nearly impossible to speak favorably about the architecture of most things built there since World War II, most of which can be summed up as being either soulless modernist apartment blocks or gaudy and equally unsightly post-modernist creations. Furthermore, it doesn't help that most non-office buildings are clad in dull ceramic tile to minimize the visible effects of pollution. Perhaps our architecture's greatest fault however, is its lack of originality or boldness. Building designs and layouts are shamelessly recycled (sometimes literally), and this is especially true of residential construction.

There are important and conspicuous exceptions however - they just don't stay around for very long. Taiwanese developers of residential construction have long had a somewhat wasteful habit of building elaborate model home and sales office complexes before tearing them down to replace them with the real thing. This is what these model homes tend to look like:

For as long as I can remember, model home designs have followed a starkly different aesthetic than the prevailing vernacular style. While permanent construction rejects clean white facades and glass walls, model homes never fail to embrace them. The playfulness of their volumes provide sharp contrast with the resolutely boxy towers that inevitably replace them. As a matter of fact, I have never come across a single real building built in "model home" style.

I've long thought that choice of architectural style is symbolic. For example it is a means through which corporations have projected images of themselves to the public - power through height and bulk, transparency and innovation through glass, and many other symbolisms. The same idea rings true for residential styles as well. What has always confused me then is the strange disconnect between the image that developers first present and the image of the final product. One seems to project innovation and creativity, while the other presents anything but. Nonetheless, it's apparently been a very successful model. I have always wondered whether this is a conscious decision, and if so, what in the world the philosophy behind it is.