On a bright and humid day that feels more like summer than mid-October, The Bourse is hopping. People pour in from Fifth Street, waltzing past the marble reception desk, and making a beeline for the handmade pasta stall, the taqueria, or the coffee shop that sits front and center (the best seat in the house).
With food in hand, they head to the center of the first floor, to enjoy their meals under soaring, vaulted glass ceilings.
Some of them look like tourists fresh off the Liberty Bell line, but for many, this is just a welcome break from the work day—and that’s exactly what the designers had hoped for.
“Now it’s activating the neighborhood,” said Robert Lubas, BLT Architect’s project architect on The Bourse. That’s evident in the local vendors who come from around the city and the suburbs, and the new hours—they no longer close at five—plus a new liquor license that all the vendors share. But it’s also the case in the renovations themselves.
When D.C.-based firm MRP bought the building two years ago and started the $40 million renovation process with BLT Architects at the helm, they had one major goal.
“Restoring the glory,” Lubas said of the term that’s become a sort of motto for the look of the new Bourse building. Erected in 1896, it was originally used as a commodities exchange until it changed hands in 1979 and underwent a massive renovation that saw it turned into offices and retail.
Now, almost as if they’re doing an archeological dig, architects have worked to bring many of the original details back. That starts in the Fifth Street entrance, where they’ve raised the lobby back to its original two-story height. They’ve also restored the original wood archways, along with a boxy design in the wood that was hidden during the last renovation.
But the real stunner of the renovations comes in the middle of the food court, itself. The atrium, which was once divided into two floors of retail with escalators running between them, has been turned into one space with a curved glass ceiling nine stories above.
The atrium was once an orange-brown color, but BLT had it repainted white, to lighten it up and bring out the intricate, classical details on the column caps and beams that run across the atrium—both of which were restored as well. Additionally, the orb-like lights that covered the space and gave off a yellow glow against the brown backdrop, have been replaced with recessed lighting.
The original wrought iron railings have been restored along the interior of the space, as well as the original marble staircase.
Before the renovation, shops sat around the middle of the space, but now, approximately 30 stalls have been erected in the middle of it all. Each has its own metal latticework above, allowing vendors to decorate and install storage without blocking the light from the glass ceiling above.
As they worked, several of the building’s original details came out, like the original red tile mosaic on the floor. Workers continued that design throughout the space, Lubas said, staining the floor to match the original mosaic.
“The goal was to make it look both old and new,” he added.
They also found several diamond tiles in the floor, each with a number, which they believe used to mark where merchants would be in the building’s original form as a commodities exchange.
An old—and no longer in use—clock that sits at the far end of the atrium is yet another reminder of the space’s previous life over 100 years ago.
While the atrium is a main draw of the space, there’s still more upstairs. Most of the upper floors are used as office spaces, and are already occupied by tenants who have been there for years.
But part of the restoration included half of the 9th floor, which BLT Architects turned into an amenity space for the other tenants in the building. The space has large, floor-to-ceiling windows that gaze out over the atrium, and it includes several glass-walled conference rooms. There’s also a small dining area with wood tables, and stadium seating for working or relaxing.
The space plays with industrial-style elements, hearkening back—again—to the late 1800s-history of the building itself, Lubas said.
The Bourse is close to its end date, and they expect to have the space finished and ready for a grand opening in mid-November.
- Bourse Building: Renderings of Historic Building’s $40M Makeover [Curbed Philly]