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Philly’s best new architecture and urban design wins of 2016

Take a trip through the year in architecture

It's time to make up a bunch of awards and hand them out to the most deserving people, places and things in the real estate, architecture, infrastructure, and neighborhood universes of Philadelphia! Yep, it's time for the Annual Curbed Awards! Up now: Wins in architecture and urban design.

There was plenty of activity in Philly’s architecture and development world this year. Some exciting projects broke ground after years in the making and we watched plenty of towers add to the ever-changing skyline. This year also delivered some long-awaited projects that deserve some praise below. Here now, the best new architecture—reveals, makeovers, and conversions included—of 2016.

Most fun to watch rise

FMC Tower: There have been plenty of towers and cranes going up and up this year in Philly, but it was especially a treat to watch the 49-story FMC Tower finish its rise on the west banks of the Schuylkill since its 2014 groundbreaking. As the tallest building in West Philly, the Pelli Clarke Pelli- and BLT-designed tower has forever changed the skyline of University City.

Best office building we never knew Philly needed

1200 Intrepid: Bjarke Ingels’ 1200 Intrepid at the Navy Yard was a lot of firsts: It was the Danish starchitect’s first office building, and the first LEED Gold-certified one at that. But it was also his first project in Philly, and it did not disappoint. After all, what other building in Philadelphia can say that it has a periscope?

Most unexpected surprise

Mormon Temple: People weren’t quite sure what to expect when the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Mormon Temple opened its doors to the public this past fall, but it certainly wasn’t this. The craftsmanship and architectural details were impressive, and the odes to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania—the wood-carved mountain-laurels, the state flower, for example—were appreciated. It’s just a shame that, with the open house now over, the general public will no longer be able to appreciate its interiors.

Best reason to go outside

Parks on Tap: Philly knows how to do pop-up parks, but Parks on Tap took it to another level with its debut this year. Parks and Rec teamed up with Fairmount Park Conservancy and FMC Hospitality to bring a mobile beer garden with modular furniture to various spots throughout Philly’s green spaces from June to October—a relatively simple and genius idea to bring more people to the city’s parks. The pay-off showed: More than 30,000 people came to Parks on Tap, and the city plans to expand the program next year to more locations and get things rolling even earlier.

Best makeover

Margaret Esherick House: When this Chestnut Hill home finally found new owners in 2014, it wasn’t clear what would become of the Louis Kahn-designed stunner. Fast forward two years later, when a new-and-improved home was revealed, highlighting Kahn’s work while bringing the home into the 21st century. Philly-based firm K. Yoder Designs led the conservation efforts, which included updating the kitchen, a paint job, and other important aesthetic restorations. It’s no wonder the house earned accolades from Docomomo earlier this year.

The “Oh my god, finally!” award

Divine Lorraine sign lighting: It took 40 years to see the iconic Divine Lorraine Hotel signs shine again—and so many rain dates leading up to the big event that we started to think Mother Nature was just playing a some sick joke on us. Although the Divine Lorraine itself is still undergoing renovations, the restored neon signs received a hearty welcome from the city, serving as literal signs of change to come on North Broad.

The Pennovation Center was designed by Hollwich Kushner. The angular facades are meant to inspire its entrepreneurs.
Photo by Melissa Romero

Best adaptive reuse project

Pennovation: The University of Pennsylvania’s Pennovation Center transformed an old 20th-century paint factory into a 21st-century innovation hub for makers and entrepreneurs. Designed by Hollwich Kushner and KSS Architects, the new-and-improved warehouse encourages innovation with its angular windows and inventor garages. We just can’t wait to see what game-changing products and ideas come from it.

Best reason to take public transit

SEPTA Key roll-out: Yes, it still has a whole bunch of kinks to work out, and yes, SEPTA’s infrastructure leaves a bit to be desired, but c’mon, baby steps. The roll-out of the SEPTA Key meant the end of Philly’s laughably dated subway payment system, which required tokens that you had to pay for with exact change. It took so long for SEPTA to launch this card-paying system that a lot of folks doubted it would ever happen, but happen it did. Like we said, baby steps!

Best groundbreaking

The Rail Park: We won’t sugarcoat it: Groundbreakings can be a bore. But when it involves a project that’s been 10 years in the making, one appreciates the ceremonious shoveling a bit more. The groundbreaking of phase 1 of the Rail Park in November packed a narrow street in Callowhill with some 100 people, all excited to see that the Rail Park—at least a quarter-mile of it—was finally, finally happening.

Most interesting take on preservation

Perry World House: One of the most interesting takes on preservation took place on Penn’s campus this year, with the opening of the Perry World House. The $17.8 million project mixed the old (a 163-year-old Gothic Revival house) with the new (a 1100 Architect-designed limestone building) in a refreshing way, and one that has been noticed by many thanks to its prominent location right on 38th Street.