Philadelphia, Kahn & Moyamensing


I found Philadelphia: The Unexpected City* in between copies of Stalin on Lenin and A Drug-Taker’s Notes at Oxfam’s charity bookshop in Preston.

From the cover blurb: Philadelphia…is full of paradox. It appears to the casual visitor recalcitrantly philistine. But it was the site of a prodigious series of cultural innovations. Its conservatism is even more recalcitrant. Yet in its urban experiments it is uniquely daring. In its long history of obstinate devotion to small-town habits, single family dwellings, galaxies of obscure little shops, the worst restaurants in the nation, it has spasmodically surrendered, on a grandiose scale, to imitation Champs Elysees, skyscrapers, apartment houses and neon lighting.

The book contains the oddest representation I have seen of Louis Kahn’s Richards Medical Research Building:


Louis Kahn, the most eminent of contemporary Philadelphia architects, designed the Richards Medical Research Buildings of the University of Pennsylvania…They consist of a cluster of towers, reminiscent of San Gimignano. Both the grouping and the details are superb. Against the lantern of a gateway to the Jacobean quadrangles, the laboratories take on a quality both ethereal and romantic.

The picture at the top is of the West Gate of Moyamensing Prison, now demolished. The architect, Thomas Walter (he designed the building in 1832) was apparently inspired by the Lion Gate at Mycenae:

For the moment the massive souvenir of Agamemnon’s city still stands and easily survives comparison with the most characteristic product of twentieth century design, the automobile.

The prison was built in a mixture of historical styles. For a fascinating post on Moyamensing and possible reasons for the employment of Egyptian Revival architecture go to The Necessity for Ruins.

Also, for more Kahn and more American cars parked next to monumental buildings see this earlier post…

Louis Kahn: Richards Medical Building on Flickr

*Philadelphia: The Unexpected City. Lafore, Laurence & Lippincott, Sarah Lee. Doubleday, 1965. This book on Abebooks

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