Folks have been settled into their new digs at the Roberts Center for Pediatric Research tower for months. But although the 21-story skyscraper was built to house the Children Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) research and administration employees, the architects want you to know that the building and its grounds were designed for the public.
The tower, designed by Ballinger and Pelli Clarke Pelli, is the first of four buildings proposed as part of CHOP’s master plan for the 8.4-acre site along the east banks of the river. After years of construction, the tower officially opened at the end of May.
The envelope of the curvy building was “highly driven” by the site’s constraints, explained Ballinger principal Terry D. Steelman at a recent tour of the tower as part of the Design Philly Festival.
For example, to accommodate for the steep grade change between South Street Bridge and the Schuylkill River, the 21-story tower was built on top of a three-story plinth, which includes parking. Steelman added that the parking lots and structures are designed to be able to handle flooding from the river.
Like so many of the new skyscrapers that have debuted on the river in recent years, the CHOP tower is clad in glass, giving off a sky-blue hue. When asked why this seems to be a trend among Philly’s new buildings, Ballinger principal Terry D. Steelman said one reason may be that glass coatings of today are more energy efficient due to their reflectivity, thus the blue hue.
One of the distinct features within curvy building is that there are no interior columns; it is a completely free space from wall to core. This was an intentional move by Ballinger in order to allow each level to have an open, collaborative floor plan. In addition, the offices are designed to be able to be broken down over the course of a weekend and reconfigured to allow for the ebb and flow of research groups.
Employees moved into the tower since late spring. But there is still some work to be done—the 20th floor, for example, is still a raw space still waiting its full build out. When that happens, it will arguably boast the most impressive 360-degree views of the city.
But while the tower is for CHOP’s desk-based research and admin offices, its ground-level spaces both inside and out are designed for public use. Grounds Reconsidered led the landscape design of the tower’s grounds, which feature large and lush planters with built-in benches and a main public plaza off Schuylkill Avenue. Steelman said this space is meant to be a community plaza that will eventually host public events like farmers markets.
Currently, its main function is to serve as a circular driveway and a drop-off for a shuttle.
From the plaza, there is a winding staircase to the right that leads up to the main entrance, and another zig-zagged pathway to the left that’s ADA accessible. During Tuesday’s tour, it was heavily trafficked by cyclists making their way up to the plaza and toward the Schuylkill River Trail.
This won’t be the last we see at this location. The master plan calls for three more towers. In fact, the bones have already been put in place for phase 2, which will include a 12-story tower on top of the parking garage that faces South Street. But, says Steele, the full buildout of the campus is still at least 20 years down the road.