Office, Residential, Retail and Public Plaza
Brandywine Realty Trust
Architect of Record: HDR
Residential Interior Architect: BLTa
Structure: LERA Consulting Structural Engineers
MEP: HDR (East Building), Bala Consulting Engineers (West Building)
Civil: Pennoni Associates
Landscape: SWA/Balsley (Ground), Ground Reconsidered (Amenity Decks)
Parking: Walker Consultants
Wind Engineers: RWDI
Elevator Logistics and Facade Access: Lerch Bates
Geotech Engineers: GeoStructures
Code Consultant: Jensen Hughes
Office: 838,000 GSF
Retail: 7,000 GSF
Office: 200,000 GSF
Residential: 326 units
Retail: 9,000 GSF
Plaza: 62,000 GSF
On one of the most important urban revitalization sites in the United States—Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Yards—PAU was commissioned by Brandywine Realty Trust in collaboration with Drexel University to design two mixed-use towers adjacent to 30th Street Station along JFK Boulevard, the first high rise structures in PAU’s mission-driven metropolitan portfolio. Collectively entitled JFK Towers, the two buildings house over 1.5 million square feet of transit-oriented office, residential and retail space framing a new one-acre public open space entitled High Line Plaza and designed by the award-winning landscape architecture firm SWA Balsley. In addition to the recent opening of One Drexel Square, designed by landscape architect West 8, and the burgundy-colored adaptive reuse of the storied Bulletin Building by Kieran Timberlake Architects, JFK Towers mark the first phase of the Schuylkill Yards project, a 14-acre redevelopment of the vast network of underutilized sites located between Center City and University City along the reimagined banks of the Schuylkill River. Unlike any other urban site in the country, Schuylkill Yards is within a twenty minute walk of some of the nation’s finest academic, cultural, medical, municipal, open space and business resources, all centered on Philadelphia’s historic 30th Street Station, a hub for SEPTA commuter trains as well as the heart of AMTRAK’s Northeast Corridor.
PAU designed JFK Towers to bridge Philadelphia’s rich history with its burgeoning knowledge-based future. The massing of the taller East office tower is a confluence of urban and programmatic forces, embodying the need for larger floors at the base and top of the tower, the need to respond to both the train station and the historic diagonal of Woodland Walk emanating from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, as well as the architectural desire to create a dynamic tri-partite volume that flips symmetrically to become itself and dances as one moves around the city. The massing of the West tower, which houses both loft office space and approximately 300 rental apartments in an area starved for the vibrancy of residents, is designed as a quieter set of orthogonal forms except at the eastern edge, where a diagonal cut in the base parallels the cantilevered upper western face of the East Tower; these urban scale architectural moves culminate to form a negative space between the towers that gives figure to the public realm in both plan and section—in both the street and the sky—around the active rail viaduct.
The expression of the buildings celebrate the diverse architectural heritage of Philadelphia, weaving color, texture and light in a manner reminiscent of the work of both Joseph and Anni Albers. Terra Cotta, used throughout historic Philadelphia, is generously deployed wherever humans interact with the building, both at the welcoming arcades of the ground plane and at the vertical breaks that form the nature-filled amenity spaces in the sky. The neutral colors of the West Tower mirror the area’s beige brick and limestone context, while the distinct red sandstone color of the East Tower extends the coloration of the Fisher Fine Arts Library designed by Frank Furness; the rich color weave of the East Tower facade offers a modern interpretation of Philadelphia’s extensive use of red and gray brick as well as the bright red metal rail cars that once traversed the Yards. The work of Furness also informed the arches at the base of both buildings, recalling the unorthodox modernisms of Yamasaki, Kahn and Pei’s daringly brilliant Society Hill towers.
The higher tower’s angular form and generous glazing mark the building’s kinship to Cesar Pelli’s nearby Cira Centre, also built as a pioneering project by Brandywine. The 512’ tall East Tower provides 34 floors of office space, 6,600 square feet of retail space, an amenity floor with a porch overlooking the station and Center City, and is designed to achieve LEED © Silver Certification. The public ground level is open and airy, with a nearly 40’ tall pedestrian arcade that aligns with the arcade of the Bulletin Building, invites pedestrians from One Drexel Square park, and echoes the colonnade of the train station. The West Tower, standing at 360’, offers 28 floors of residential, office, and ground floor retail space, as well as a floor fully dedicated to indoor and outdoor amenities on the roof of the office base. The two towers will be connected by the High Line Plaza, a new public space that will feature a variety of plants and social seating arrangements, a water feature, and provide space for programmed community events.
The design of the towers are in conversation with one another as cousins, dancing together in scale and rhythm as they both aspire to create a sense of place and openness for the diverse communities of University City and Western Philadelphia, many of whom were consulted during the design process. As the neighborhood evolves, Schuylkill Yards will remain a centripetal force for residents, students, medical professionals, families, businesses, collaborators, travelers, park goers, and more. The JFK Towers were designed to turn an underutilized yard into a prominent feature of the city, the beginning of a new downtown for one of the nation’s most important cities.