by Diane M. Fiske
Neighbors of High Hollow, the former estate of Philadelphia architect George Howe in Chestnut Hill on Hampton Road, can be proud that the story of the famous architect is continuing in the city.
The Philadelphia Bulletin building, Howe’s final project, is being redesigned as the center of a huge project called Schuylkill Yards at 30th and Market streets.
Howe, who lived in the mansion he designed from 1914 to 1917, would probably approve of the illuminated sign being installed to remind everyone who passes the West Philadelphia site of the history of the renowned afternoon paper that ceased publication in 1982.
The future of Howe’s creation, the Philadelphia Bulletin building and its new position as the center of the Schuylkill Yards’ “innovation district’ being developed by Brandywine Realty Trust, were the focus of a talk by architect Richard Maimon, a partner of KieranTimberlake, to the Design Advocacy Group this month at the AIA Philadelphia headquarters on Arch Street.
Maimon, who is the lead designer of the Bulletin project for KieranTimberlake, said Howe’s design for High Hollow established the standard for house design in the Philadelphia region through the early 20th century.
High Hollow can be regarded as an innovation in modern design, Maimon said. He said Howe used the techniques of the International Style he learned in his L’ Ecole des Beaux-Arts architecture classes in Paris. These techniques were then used many times in Howe’s practice, Maimon said.
In the 1930s, Howe had worked with Swiss architect George Lescaze to design Philadelphia’s revolutionary PSFS building that introduced modern design and skyscrapers to Philadelphia. The PSFS building, at 12th and Market streets, was hailed for introducing the International Style to the United States.
According to Maimon, the team from KieranTimberlake, working on the rehabilitation of the Bulletin Building project, had a main goal, which was to correct problems in the building that were introduced in the 1990s by new owners long after the Bulletin folded.
The original Howe-designed building faced 30th Street Station on the west side with a blank gray stone wall embossed with the graphic letters “Bulletin” that was visible at night, especially as an illuminated welcome for people arriving in the city and leaving the train station.
“Now because it became customary for an office to offer well-lit spaces for workers, new windows had to be cut into the building, and there was no gray blank wall that could be illuminated with the Bulletin letters,” Maimon said.
A new glass wall was added to the building along with columns and 28-foot bays. A grid, painted bright red, outlines the basic design and floor plan originally envisioned by Howe.
The name “Bulletin” will be placed on top of the building in 12-foot-high letters that will be illuminated to illustrate the significance of the building in the Bulletin’s type fonts.
Howe’s original project points were listed in the project material and included: horizontal orientation, monumental civic scale and large volume balanced on slender columns.
One of his team goals, Maimon said, was to embrace George Howe’s design intent as a guide for reinterpreting the building with sensitivity and respect.
He said these goals included installing the news ticker across the east side of the building and allowing the curtain wall to show Howe’s original international design plans.
Maimon said Howe will also be remembered for embracing the International Style of architecture and often bringing this sophisticated architectural style to Philadelphia along with his contemporary – renowned mid-century architect Louis Kahn – with whom Howe worked on projects.
To augment attempts to make sure Howe is not forgotten, Howe was quoted in material distributed by KieranTimberlake discussing the project as saying, “I evolved a design of my own [with] an emphasis on the possibilities of steel, in the bold recognition of a great mass of masonry standing on stilts.”