Wytold Rybczynski and Inga Saffron are among the architecture and planning ‘visionaries’ who will appear at the Chestnut Hill Conservancy’s panel on April 21.

by Dan Macey

It’s been nearly 50 years since famed architect Louis Kahn characterized Chestnut Hill as a “spirit,” in which “it seems as though the trees and gardens and the carefully scribbled streets have told everyone to be discerning about the steps they will take.”

In the face of the urban growth much of the city of Philadelphia is experiencing, it is time to reflect on Kahn’s words and publicly discuss Chestnut Hill’s assets and the role growth could play in affecting the “spirit” of the community.

The Chestnut Hill Conservancy has gathered some of the most prominent local and national experts on urbanism, historic preservation and architecture’s role in the community to spark a community discussion on the tensions between preservation and change facing Chestnut Hill. The Visionaries Roundtable, slated for 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 21, at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, is intended to begin this dialogue.

Who are the Visionaries?

The evening will begin with some remarks from Louis Kahn’s filmmaker son Nathaniel Kahn – a Chestnut Hill native – and continue with a provocative keynote by another Chestnut Hill native Witold Rybczynski, an internationally renowned and insightful architectural commentator and thought-provoking author on culture and architecture.

“American cities are not shaped by architects, planners, legislators or mayors, but by the market, that is, by the people who live and work – and play – in them,” Rybczynski said in his 2010 book “Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities.”

He is the emeritus professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania and, from 2004 and 2012, served on the U.S. Commission for Fine Arts. He has been called “one of the best writers on design working today,” and having “a special knack for making everyday objects and ideas seem captivating, in part because he places them in a larger historical narrative.” He has written and co-authored 20 books – some best sellers – on culture, architecture, the home, design and urban history.

Following Rybczynski’s talk, Gail Harrity, president of the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 2009 and its chief operating officer since 1997, will moderate a roundtable discussion on the conflicts between preservation and change. Before coming to Philadelphia, Harrity held the position of Deputy Director at New York’s Solomon Guggenheim Museum, where she was the project director for the museum in planning for the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Previous to that, she held a variety of senior positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is a resident of Chestnut Hill.

Those participating in the roundtable are:

  • David De Long, professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania where he chaired the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, as he had earlier at Columbia University. He received his Master of Architecture degree from Penn, where he studied with Louis Kahn, and his Ph.D. in architecture from Columbia University. As a licensed architect, he was an associate of John Carl Warnecke and Associates, Architects and Planners. He has served as guest curator for exhibitions at major museums, and among his many books are studies of Louis Kahn, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and Frank Lloyd Wright, among others.
  • Bryan Hanes, founding principal of Studio Bryan Hanes and a registered landscape architect who has been involved in a diverse range of work, from significant urban and open space planning and design projects to small-scale designs for institutional and private clients. Each project strives to acknowledge an understanding of the natural and cultural systems of a site. He has been instrumental in designing the Philadelphia Rail Park which is reclaiming abandoned Reading Railroad railroad tracks for a green space, a gathering space and a public space for all.
  • Inga Saffron, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic who writes about architecture, design and planning issues. Her column, “Changing Skylines,” has been appearing in the paper’s Home and Design section since 1999. In 2014, she received a Pulitzer Prize in Criticism. In 2012, she completed a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
  • Richard Snowden, the managing partner in Bowman Properties which owns and manages a portfolio of historic residential and commercial buildings in Chestnut Hill. His involvement with the historic preservation movement spans three decades and includes service on the boards of numerous historic sites and arts organizations, including the Chestnut Hill Conservancy (formerly Historical Society), the Andalusia Foundation, Cliveden, and the Library Company of Philadelphia, and he helped found and chair the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.
  • Tickets to the Visionaries Roundtable can be purchased for $10 (for students, $5) through the Chestnut Hill Conservancy website, www.chconservancy.org, or by calling 215-247-9329, x202. A “Meet the Speakers” reception with fondue and wine will begin at 6 p.m., and tickets for that are $40 including the main event. A complimentary frozen yogurt social will follow the event, courtesy of Chill Frozen Yogurt.

The Visionaries Roundtable is generously sponsored by Chestnut Hill Conservancy 50th Anniversary Presenting Sponsor, the Nottingham-Goodman Group of Merrill Lynch, as well as Johnson, Kendall & Johnson, Krieger + Associates Architects, Kurtz Construction, and Dennis F. Meyer Inc., Old Village Master Painters, and Pure Insurance.

Dan Macey is Chestnut Hill resident and one of the organizers for the Visionaries Roundtable.