Not Robert Cumberford

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A failed car designer tries to make sense of a flat design world.

Oh those terrible lights…

Inga Saffron, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic loves the Cira Centre’s new lights. I couldn’t disagree more. Although the LEDs on the Cira Centre might be better than some of the recent lighting projects in the city – that’s not saying much. Boathouse Row has set a horrible precedent for lighting in Philadelphia for years.

Lighting up this jewel-like skyscraper like a Roxborough rowhome at Christmas time doesn’t do it justice and looks completely amateur when compared to what’s being done with other significant buildings around the world (have you seen the Swiss Re building or the Eiffel Tower at night recently?).

What this lighting has done is take a building that positively glows and intrigues by day and turns it into a novelty by night. For me, the lighting on the Cira Centre keeps Philly in a second tier of architecture and design, when it had a chance to stand up and show that it’s truly world-class.

And don’t even get me started on the catwalk to 30th St. Station…

Where have all the details gone?

I will admit to being split over the merits of modern architecture. I am a lover of art deco, Frank Furness and Norman Foster, but I think that most buildings from the 1950s and ’60s (think Philly’s Penn Center) would contribute more to society as raw steel and asbestos – reinforced oven mitts maybe. I can appreciate the stark simple forms and designs that modernists aspire to, but I can’t help but think that these architects have forgotten something important – people. Last I checked, buildings are built to be inhabited or occupied by people, but I’m not sure Cesar Pelli remembers this.

My bus (yes, I save the world in my own little way) takes me by the new Cira Centre in Philadelphia. It is a beautiful building, rising like a giant quartz crystal over the Amtrak railroad yards and 30th Street Station. At street level though, the building practically disappears. It’s simply a series of glass panels. Big. Square. Blueish. Boring. There’s absolutely nothing to suggest the striking form jutting toward the sky above you. None of the contrasting starkness of shape and sky. Nothing interesting at all. Were the blueprints for the details misplaced? Did Cesar forget to do them? I don’t get it. There is a silly diamond-shaped entrance structure that appears like an afterthought, but nothing that would suggest anyone bothered to consider the human interaction with the outside of the building.

Hopefully the story will be different inside the building.