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The PSFS Building, Philadelphia, PA
molly
wolveswithkeys wrote in archjr

The PSFSBuilding, PhiladelphiaPA


 I have to admit, I lived Philadelphia for about 6 years and while always walked or drove by this building countless times, knew it was there and that it was, supposedly, great. I had never been before I left and believed the opportunity to visit it entirely lost. It’s shameful thing to admit for someone who allegedly loves architecture to miss something so prevalent in a city, and like so many of my relationships before, I promised each new city that I’ll never do something so stupid again. I pledge, with the earnestness of a alter server, that I will see their beautiful buildings and compliment them. However, I’ve lived in Baltimore for about six months now and have yet to go to the Benjamin LaTrobe Cathedral or the Baltimore Museum of Art, what can I tell you? I’m a bad, bad person.

History
All this guilt aside, the PSFS (Philadelphia Savings Fund Society) is, in fact, one of the beautiful structures I have ever seen. The best? Not quite, but nothing ever trumps your first love. (Oh The East Gallery by I.M. Pei! Why must you always break my heart?) So let’s do a little bit of background:
This building was originally conceived in the 1920s, when architecture was about the power of money. If you had a successful company why not show it off and publicly announce your means. This was the age of great sky scrapers and grander ambitions. Buildings were the same thing as a new Rolls Royce or a trophy wife. And the PFSF wanted the hottest chick there was.

ENTER Howe and Lescaze or Howe I Met My Partner
William Lescaze was a Swiss-born American architect who moved to New York in 1923, after initially settling to Ohio. Lescaze had a natural gift for grandeur and is generally given the credit for the sleek beautiful lines of the building due to his personal taste. However, he insisted to the end that more credit belonged to Howe. (As a side note, I think most Americans are more confident in European architects than our own, but that’s outside the scope of this work.)

George Howe was about as American as hot-dogs and baseball. Educated at Harvard, and then later Ecole de Beaux arts, he received some initial influence from the infamous Furness, Evans & Co, which undoubtedly taught him the importance of human scale. He also served in World War I which lumps him in with those “lost generation” dudes.
They teamed up just before submitting a bid for the PSFS and lo, the dark horse won.

However, during the construction the market crashed and slowed construction significantly, the building was finally finished in 1932 and the HUGE neon sign emblazoned the sky to inspire the people of Philadelphia to dream big. However some believed that PFSF stood for “Philadelphia Slowly Faces Starvation”. The sign is often considered the first use of the modern mega-graphic in architecture. So you can see why Robert Venturi is also charmed by it.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s.



The BUILDING:
Having entered it from several different angles (that’s what he said) during the course of my stay. I can safely attest that every initial impression is one of elegance and intrigue. When you first come in there is immediately a sense of being pulled into a scene where you are a character of some importance. The sharp clean marble, the bony lines, and powerful thrusts of cantilevers that hum a low tune, it’s all there for you to be more important than you may actually be, which is what you want when you’ve been traveling.

Traveling makes you alien, you almost want to be forgotten so reinvention becomes more believable. By being in a smart and sophisticated place, you too feel smart and sophisticated.  
The place I most fell in love with was the 33rd floor, which has wide-glass and an almost unobstructed view of Philadelphia and allows you to look down into City Hall as you are almost level with it in height. You feel like a peeping tom. This view, for the time was a revolutionary.

On the exterior there is a nod to the art-deco vogue but there are also the early signs of international style, no doubt brought over from Switzerland. The regimented rhythm of the fenestrated façade would be squat and boring (I’m talking MARY TODD LINCOLN squat) except that it is punctuated by vertical lines which dominate them with subtlety. This creates a balance.
The street level is addressed by one large dark pull that stretches like licorice taffy. This move addresses the curb in a friendly way, welcoming you in but reminding you not to touch anything that looks expensive. 

The only criticism is that the flow of interior spaces is a little jarring, like they were planning on it being wider and then had to skew their design to fit the requirements.

In conclusion: It’s a Pretty Sweet Freakin’ Structure.

 


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