Monday, April 5, 2010

Construction update: Drexel Recreation Center

There's been such a general dearth of new construction here in the past few months that I'd even lost track of the handful of mid-sized projects nearing completion. The opening of Drexel's new Recreation Center back in February flew right under the radar, but I managed to finally get a look at the completed product over the weekend.

The Recreation Center as viewed from 33rd and Market

Designed by Sasaki Associates with engineering work by EwingCole and Pennoni, the 84,000 square foot building occupies an entire block of Market Street between 33rd and 34th Streets, wrapping around the existing Daskalakis Athletics Center and replacing what was previously a perimeter of inactive and unused open space.

As far as university campus additions go, the Recreation Center was highly anticipated. For Drexel planners, it provided another essential step toward shedding the university's reputation as a hotspot of orange brick and mediocre modernism. The wise decision to wrap the new building around the Daskalakis Athletics Center was not only cost effective for Drexel, but also provided a rare opportunity to breathe new life into a particularly quiet stretch of Market Street. To that end, the ground floor of the building also houses a newly opened restaurant and bar occupying half of the building's Market Street frontage, providing another amenity for the campus and nearby area.

Landmark Americana Tap & Grill

Personally, I find the the window patterning of the upper stories to be visually interesting. Nonetheless, the building's ground floor presence leaves a lot to be desired. The non-restaurant half of the Market Street frontage hides a large lounge space behind a very opaque band of windows. Contrary to the project's intentions and expectations, the pedestrian experience along this block is decidedly a bit dull, albeit a definite improvement over previous conditions. Another lesson learned: windows are never as transparent as promised by architectural renderings.

Perhaps such judgments are somewhat premature, given the continued presence of orange construction cones around the site. However, there are a few simple changes that could greatly improve the building's interaction with its neighbors. The presence of the Market Street Subway beneath the roadway probably precludes the planting of street trees. Nonetheless, the sidewalk is virtually crying out for at least some plantings and shade, a need which will only become more evident with the approach of summer. Lastly, I will also suggest that the ground floor facade could be significantly enlivened by some sort of engaging display or signage without compromising the quality of the building's interior spaces.

Recreation Center opening press release [Drexel University]

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