Here are excerpts from architecture critic Inga Saffron's Pulitzer Prize-winning columns (click on the headlines to read the complete articles):
With LOVE Park packed with seven restaurants [under a redevelopment plan], it would be like Christmas Village every day. While a cafe overlooking the glorious Parkway vista certainly has appeal, what about the office worker who brings a homemade sandwich? When I mentioned the plan's paucity of unassigned space to [City Council President Darrell L.] Clarke, he pointed to the rendering, which showed a low wall around a sleek pavilion, and suggested the nonpayers could park their bottoms there.
What makes Philadelphia's new zoning code such a landmark policy is that it embraces the modern view of cities first articulated by such urbanists as Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte. They understood that cities couldn't survive with fortified streets and blank ground floors. In the spirit of that movement, the code took the bold step of banning a particular local scourge: garage-fronted rowhouses.
Apparently, the Zoning Board of Adjustment never got the memo.
I'll admit that when I first heard that the popular suburban temple of caloric overload [Cheesecake Factory] was touching down at 15th and Walnut Streets, the news didn't exactly stoke my appetite for good design. I imagined a generic box, done up in flat, lifeless stucco the color of American cheese, elbowing its way onto a corner that has been occupied for the better part of a century by three ordinary, but charming, commercial buildings. But the architecture gods have smiled on Philadelphia.
Even less plausible is [Steve] Wynn's plan for a 320-room resort on the Delaware. ... Deep in the belly of this beast, Wynn plans a windowless bunker of a casino — presumably safe from military attack. Corridors, similar to the spokelike arrangement at Eastern State Penitentiary, would funnel gamblers from their parking spaces to the slot machines. Fun! The upside is that the garage won't be as visible as SugarHouse's seven-story version.
Richard Basciano and the late Samuel A. Rappaport were friends, business partners, and slumlords. Both rose from humble beginnings to become real estate speculators extraordinaire. They scooped up blighted properties in Philadelphia and sat on them for years while the structures crumbled, eventually selling them at huge markups to be developed by others. Now [after the building collapse at 22d and Market Streets] they have something else in common. Both owned buildings that killed.
While the rendering seems intentionally imprecise, it's all too clear that the plaza is more of a landscaped entrance than a real park, and will be as sterile as an operating room. Enormous planters consume most of the space, forming a cattle-chute pathway straight to the front door of Children's Hospital's 22-story tower.
While scattered benches and planter walls will offer seating, everything about the design says, Look, don't touch. You can see plenty of so-called green space just like it if you wander across the South Street Bridge to the tangle of driveways and porte cocheres that is the hospital district.
A lot of dense architectural theory went into its shape, which is interesting to the cognoscenti. But the interior spaces, as blissed-out as a mountain retreat, are what will win over the nanotech researchers, who started moving in this month. Modern science is as much about socializing as peering into microscopes, so there are many spots for exchanging ideas, from diner-like booths to nightclub-like lounges, done up in pops of paprika and marigold.
If the particular ugliness of the new Home2Suites at 12th and Arch Streets seems familiar, it is because this type of flimsy, style-challenged hotel is already a fixture at highway off-ramps across America. Grateful for shelter in far-flung places, we grudgingly accept the lack of architectural effort, even if we do slink off in the morning without so much as a backward glance.
South Broad Street between City Hall and Spruce Street is, indeed, a sparkling Great White Way, abuzz in the evenings with people rushing to events. And yet the original premise is outdated: Out-of-town visitors are no longer the key to the city's salvation. The challenge today isn't to cajole suburbanites to come downtown for an evening; it's making the city more livable for the thousands of new residents who are putting down roots in Philadelphia's reviving neighborhoods. No one anticipated that population surge when the avenue was created.
There isn't much of Camden on the Camden waterfront, but what little there is can reliably be found at the Camden Children's Garden.
Amid the lineup of high-priced venues that now front the Delaware, the horticulture-themed playground stands out as a lone homegrown attraction. Camden residents built it. Camden residents use it. Camden teenagers learn work skills there. Designed by the noted architect Steve Izenour, the city landmark celebrates South Jersey in all its wondrous variety: The billboard-style, corrugated-steel entrance gate is a whimsical love note to the region's truck gardens, seaside kitsch, and roadside signs.