On this blog, we try to stick to development issues and generally try to stay out of the weeds when it comes to architecture. First, we don't have formal training in that department. Also, it's a subjective thing and can be a bit of a moving target. For example, today we admire what's left of the works of Willis G. Hale, but the man died nearly penniless. How embarrassing it would be for us to criticize a building in the present day and become a laughingstock a hundred years from now!
But sometimes we just can't help ourselves. And that brings us to 3901 Walnut St., a building constructed in partnership between Penn and the Hankin Group. We first told you this was coming a couple years back.
On its face, the building is inoffensive. And compared to the one-story diner that we here previously, one could argue that a six-story office building is a step in the right direction. But… is this really the best project they were able to come up with? The building looks like it was designed by the same group that conceived the dorm building across the street several decades ago.
When you consider the surrounding buildings, the vanilla building at 39th & Walnut becomes more frustrating. The 3800 block of Walnut Street is lined with wonderful old West Philadelphia homes that have a ton of character. In the other direction is the Radian, a mixed-use building that went up a couple of years ago and has a distinctly contemporary look. Some people look at the Radian and think it looks like crap, others think it's a cool looking structure. But at least it's a building that stimulates a conversation.
It's worth mentioning, a retail space on the first floor would have been a reasonable expectation. Every other building on the block has it! But as far as we can tell, no such luck.
We wonder, why would Penn, with such a rich architectural examples like the Fisher Fine Arts Library and Hill College House (just kidding even though it was designed by a famous architect) want such a boring building on their campus? Seems like all kinds of missed opportunities here. Unless, are we way off base? Could it be that this building actually interesting and exciting and we just don't realize it?
Update: It turns out the building does have a retail space. So that's great. We still don't like the building.