By: The Greater Philadelphia Chapter of Docomomo US
Images: Dr. Emily T. Cooperman
In the spring of 2012, the Greater Philadelphia Chapter was invited to participate as a consulting party in the federal review (Section 106) process of a proposed lobby addition on the Casa Farnese in Philadelphia. Originally known as Casa Enrico Fermi (renamed in 2004 in memory of its developer, Philadelphia attorney Andrew N. Farnese), was designed and built in 1964-1966 by the architectural firm of Stonorov and Haws. The building is 19-story, reinforced-concrete, senior citizen housing apartment building set at the western edge of the Washington Square West neighborhood of downtown Philadelphia. Casa Fermi was the first senior housing development to be created in Philadelphia under the Section 202 housing program of the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and thus corresponds to the enduring “group housing” practice of important Philadelphia modernist Oskar Stonorov (1905-1970) into the last phase of his career.
The building was originally constructed with a small entry vestibule, rather than a lobby. This small space was inadequate for the residents’ needs for a gathering place located near the entrance and for security monitoring of visitors, which was unneeded at the time of original construction. The building’s owner sought to create a new lobby for these two purposes using a loan from HUD. The original concept for the project was to have entailed the demolition of an original, C-plan breezeway in a plaza at the front of the building. Because of the federal involvement for this project, it came under review for potential adverse effect on historic resources. Thanks to the efforts of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Philadelphia Historical Commission, historic preservation consultant Emily T. Cooperman, and consulting parties, including Janet Kimbleton Grace, President of the Greater Philadelphia docomomo chapter, the lobby scheme was redesigned to keep the existing breezeway intact.