700 Race Street, Philadelphia
Geddes, Brecher, Qualls & Cunningham, 1959-1962
Significance: The “Roundhouse” is a landmark of the Philadelphia School and architects Geddes, Brecher, Qualls & Cunningham, who designed the building using an innovative precast, prestressed concrete system known as Schokbeton. Engineered by August Komendant as one of the first of its kind in the United States, the building was assembled from individual precast panels that fully integrate the building’s structural and mechanical systems. The building’s construction in the early 1960s was a watershed moment in the redevelopment of Center City Philadelphia and was championed by Richardson Dilworth and Edmund Bacon. Its iconic curved forms are repeated throughout the building’s interiors, where even the elevators and exit signs are round.
Threat: In Mayor Michael Nutter’s March 2012 budget address, plans were announced to relocate Philadelphia’s Police Headquarters to West Philadelphia, leaving the Roundhouse vacant. While the move is not likely be to be complete for a number of years, the current administration has resisted efforts to study potential reuses for the building and appear to be promoting demolition and new construction as the only redevelopment strategy for the site.
Recommendations: The Roundhouse is eligible for listing on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places under at least seven of the Historical Commission’s ten criteria for historic designation. Adding the building to the Philadelphia Register would ensure that the City explores all options for the building’s preservation before pursuing demolition. Sympathetic alterations or additions to the building could allow for a number of new uses, including continued municipal use, hotel or residential conversion, or a commercial mixed use development.
Links: Visit the Save the Roundhouse Facebook group for more information on the building’s history and significance.