The Philadelphia skyline will soon have some fresh development, thanks to an infusion of investment capital from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Philadelphia skyline will soon have some fresh development, thanks to an infusion of investment capital from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Shutterstock)

This month the city of Philadelphia announced a unique partnership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to develop a two-block “Mormon complex” just north of the downtown area.

In addition to the temple that is already under construction there and scheduled for completion in 2016, the complex will feature:

  • a 32-story tower featuring 258 apartments
  • 13 rental townhomes
  • a 24,000-square foot meetinghouse for area Mormons
  • a landscaped plaza area
  • walkable shopping
  • underground parking

The plan has earned a mixed review from the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s architecture critic, Inga Saffron. She generally hates the hodgepodge look of it:

It’s hard not to wince when you first look at the renderings of the Mormon Church’s expanding kingdom at 16th and Vine Streets, unveiled last week by Mayor Nutter. The architectural chameleons at Robert Stern’s office have paired a 1920s-style apartment tower with a teensy redbrick meetinghouse that looks as if it was dragged across town from colonial-era Society Hill.

As if that wasn’t enough, those retro buildings will join a snow-white, double-spired, French classical Mormon temple by Perkins+Will that is already rising along the cliff edge of the Vine Street Expressway. The collection of architectural pastiches promises to be one of the weirder ensembles produced in 21st-century America outside of Las Vegas.

That’s the bad news. But on the other hand, Saffron gives the Mormon developers kudos for burying the parking, redeeming an unenviable location just off an interstate cloverleaf, and using real bricks in both the meetinghouse and the apartment tower.
“How do you respond to a development where the architecture is awful, but the urbanism is terrific — especially in a city routinely shortchanged in both categories?” she asks.

 

Good question. This project marks the LDS Church’s second massive urban reclamation project, but the first outside its own immediate neighborhood. The City Creek Center development in Salt Lake City, which the Church funded to the tune of $1.5 to $2 billion, featured luxury apartments and shopping within a stone’s throw of the iconic Salt Lake temple.

 

It has been a great commercial success, despite criticism that the Church’s wealth would be better spent on helping the poor than encouraging conspicuous consumption. The development has created jobs and brought foot traffic back to a key area of downtown Salt Lake.

 

It will be interesting to see what happens with the Philly experiment, which theĀ New York Times suggests will have a lower price tag in the “many tens of millions” of dollars.

2 Comments

  1. As someone who lives in Utah I think it is important to remember that without City Creek that the downtown area of Salt Lake City would have continued on the decline it had been on for the last twenty years. I am not Mormon but I certainly think that the wanted to avoid having crime rampant right outside the Salt Lake temple. From that non Mormon perspective they have made great progress at saving downtown Salt Lake City for all the residents. It was good city planning besides the jobs and the foot traffic. The City Creek development in my opinion saved downtown for the time being from urban decay.

  2. Wince is quite an interesting word for Ms. Saffron to chose in her article. Makes me wonder how much time she actually took to review the plans, community participation sense of a “return to Philadelphia Greatness” that I observe in the proposed three structures. Maybe it is more a difference of taste or flavor for style, but to wince?…….
    Maybe she would like to see something more in theme with the existing area: Brick cube mid rises with urban art wall murals and dumpster alley ways…. or maybe she would rather see more glass sky scrappers so dense and collectively lacking uniqueness now in downtown that I can’t even find William Penn any more…. maybe that would help her mild seizing…
    Heaven forbid that someone should actually introduce not just “adequate for their needs” buildings but great structures that add in perpetuity to the grandeur of one of our founding cities. I tend to have a great deal of admiration for groups, religious or otherwise, who add uniqueness, coupled with their “brand” or their “heritage” or their “style” to add to a sense of community instead of distracting from it for additional $ per sq ft.
    Again, I am not an expert. I do believe though, that Ms. Saffron might consider that dialing down the drama of the high school cheer leading squad in her mind might actually allow her to appreciate wonderful enhancements to our city, even if it is not what she would build.

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