Historic Preservation Studio: Philadelphia

HSPV 701-201

Historic Preservation Studio: Philadelphia

The character of Kingsessing is shaped by streetcar-fueled 20th-century urban development, overlain on southwest Philadelphia’s unique colonial-period landscapes. Relict road patterns, rail lines, and some large cultural institutions shape the built heritage of the neighborhood subtly but strongly. Community succession is a big story here (as in many Philadelphia neighborhoods); the currently population is majority black, and strongly immigrant (especially West-African). The “Main Street” pattern along Woodland Avenue in the 60s is enriched by a few theaters and banks, a police station that also houses other municipal functions, and, at the southwestern end of our study area, the lovely old campus of St. James Episcopal Church. Other green spaces, residential areas and relict factories surround it. 


This studio challenged students to think deeply about the mix and interplay of commercial and public spaces to enliven the commercial district (though it remains quite vibrant) and urbanistically connect to surrounding civic assets: like St. James’ campus, other nearby churches and parks, and perhaps Mount Moriah Cemetery.The neighborhood has changed dramatically over its centuries of evolution: stories of developer-built housing overlay colonial landscapes; later depredations of structural racism, white flight, etc. resulted in disinvestment and a wide variety of building adaptations; a thriving immigrant community is evident in the commercial strip. The question now is how can the inherited built environment serve the present and future community? And how historic preservation-led strategies can shape change that brings development without displacement.

Facade of a corner store
Facades of a block of buildings
Facade of a produce store
Facades of a block of storefronts
Facades of a block of stores
Facade of a small store

The core challenge of this studio focused on designing “tactical” preservation proposals that deliver practical and economically viable reuse/adaptation while also preserving/interpreting cultural values and catalyzing development and greater benefit for the community. Each student selected a site that they then would develop a 2-month, 5-year, and 10-year strategy to achieve this. “Tactical” is meant as provisional –partial, temporary, prototypical–in analogy to “tactical urbanism”: strategies by which quicker-to implement, interim interventions are made as proof-of-concept, as a catalyst, and as means of acknowledging and protecting heritage buildings. Such projects can provide immediate benefits in and of themselves (jobs, investment, street activation, material preservation of fabric), as well as a step toward longer-term solutions. Practically, tactical preservation is often envisioned as reuse of one part of a larger building, while stabilizing the rest. 

Facade of an old theater
Facade of an old theater
Photo of an old stone building
Rendering of a house with a garden
Facades of two storefronts
Facade of two buildings
Facade of a large old building
Rendering of a building that is four stories tall