Educational Collaboration for the Philadelphia Police Headquarters
Written by the Georgia Tech and UPenn studios - See end for details
Through a series of fortunate circumstances a unique collaboration has developed between the University of Pennsylvania’s Historic Preservation Graduate Program and Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture around the future of the Philadelphia Police Headquarters affectionately and not so affectionately known as the “Roundhouse”. Designed in 1962 by Geddes, Brecher, Qualls and Cunningham with structural engineer August Komendant, a cross-discipline collaboration has united the UPenn historic preservation graduate studio with a 3rd and 4th year architecture design studio in an effort to contribute to the conversation in Philadelphia about the future of this important building.
Photo: UPenn and Georgia Tech students site visit, Credit: Suzanna Barucco
The structure for collaboration was developed by Jack Pyburn, FAIA who is the 2013 Harrison Design Associates Visiting Scholar in Historic Preservation in the Georgia Tech School of Architecture; Randall Mason, Associate Professor and Chair of the Historic Preservation Program in the University of Pennsylvania School of Design; and Suzanna Barucco, Lecturer and Studio Director for the UPenn Roundhouse preservation studio. Commencing in the fall 2012 semester, the UPenn preservation studio provided the historic context research as well as a preservation plan for the building and the Georgia Tech architectural design studio used that valuable background information to consider design opportunities for an expansion of the building and the reuse potential of the Roundhouse interior. While both studios will produce their own unique and original outcomes, combined the programs allow for an enriching collaboration with real world experiences. The following are a series of descriptions from the two teams on the history of the iconic Roundhouse and their observations on the partnership.
Brief History of the Roundhouse
Designed to be a symbol of progressive community based policing, the Philadelphia leadership in the late 1950’s wanted the building to promote a positive public image of the police department after years of corruption and cronyism associated with the department’s location in City Hall. The Roundhouse’s dramatic curvilinear skin was fabricated using the newly imported Dutch Schokbeton system of architectural precast concrete combined with Komendant’s structural daring produced a unique design allowed only by the state of the art construction technology. Uncertainty of the building’s future was revealed in 2008 when the City announced plans to move the Police Headquarters to a presently vacant but much larger historic building in West Philadelphia, noting that the move would consolidate police functions and allow the redevelopment of the Roundhouse site to offset the cost of the new home. An additional threat is the public’s perception that the building is in poor physical condition, which stems primarily from the occupants’ publicly expressed dissatisfaction with current building conditions.
Photo (right): The Roundhouse today. Credit: Allee Berger
A UPenn Perspective of the Roundhouse Collaboration (by Allee Berger and Kimber VanSant)
In October 2012, the UPenn historic preservation studio team learned that Jack Pyburn would be teaching a historic preservation focused architectural design studio focusing on reuse options for the Roundhouse. Recognizing that our research and preservation plan would inform and be utilized by students at Georgia Tech, and that those projects could in-turn be used to make the case for the building’s reuse, we were enthusiastic to be involved in a real-world preservation scenario that would continue well past the completion of the course.