School of Design students fight to save 'Roundhouse' from demolition
Kimber VanSant and Allee Berger are campaigning to preserve the current Police headquarters, known as the 'Roundhouse'
January 24, 2013, 12:36 am·
Debby Chiang | DP
Two Penn graduate students are not letting a historic Center City building be demolished without a fight.
School of Design students Kimber VanSant and Allee Berger have launched a campaign to save the Police Administration Building, better known as the “Roundhouse,” from demolition. The building currently acts as Philadelphia Police Department Headquarters.
The building — constructed in 1963 — stands at 7th and Race streets and is notorious for its odd design, made up of three concrete circles connected by more concrete.
VanSant and Berger have met with the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, in addition to creating a Facebook page to rally support. Thus far, the page has 186 “likes.”
The two agree that acting quickly is crucial. “Preservationists are notorious for acting in the 11th hour. We do not want to wait until the last minute,” Berger said. “We’re getting out in front of it and making noise now.”
The fears of the Roundhouse’s potential demolition stem from Philadelphia Mayor and 1979 Wharton graduate Michael Nutter’s announcement last March about moving Philadelphia Police Headquarters to West Philadelphia.
While no firm date has been announced for the move, it is expected to occur in the next several years.
The city has not commented on the Roundhouse’s future. However, there are worries about the possibility of the building being demolished.
“The threat is very real,” Preservation Alliance Advocacy Director Ben Leech said. “It is a couple of years away, but it is quite real.”
In response to this fear, the Preservation Alliance listed the Roundhouse on its 2012 “Endangered Properties List.” The group has also partnered with VanSant and Berger to stop the building’s possible destruction.
The new police headquarters will stand at 46th and Market streets, where the current Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company building stands. The move to West Philadelphia is happening because “the [Roundhouse] building is very overcrowded,” according to PennDesign professor Suzanna Barucco, who taught a preservation studio focusing on the Roundhouse last semester.
Barucco’s studio was the course which got VanSant and Berger interested in the building. The class, which Barucco says the two “became very involved in,” focused on “developing a conservation plan” for the Roundhouse.
The Philadelphia City Planning Commission has not announced plans for what will happen to the Roundhouse, but that might change soon. The plan for the Central District, where the Roundhouse lies, is expected to be released in March.
When the Roundhouse opened in the 1960s, “it was state-of-the art,” Georgia Institute of Technology architecture professor Jack Pyburn said.
This semester, Pyburn is teaching a third and fourth year design studio with a heavy focus on the Roundhouse. “I picked it because it’s important both architecturally and in its construction,” Pyburn said.
As for the Roundhouse’s future, Pyburn said that “the next step will be to explore its capacity for certain types of uses.”
Leech said he sees a number of avenues for how the Roundhouse could be “adaptively reused.” He proposed selling the property and converting it into hotels, office space or condominiums.
He also suggested the city could keep it under its control and convert it into a library or community center.
Leech sees Reading Terminal Market at 12th and Filbert streets as a comparison for the Roundhouse. The building, which once acted as a train shed, was “given for dead” before being converted into one of Philadelphia’s most bustling tourist attractions.
VanSant added that just because some people view the Roundhouse as an eyesore, it does not mean the building should be demolished.
“It’s not about pretty versus ugly,” she said. “The building is a piece of the architectural history and culture of Philly.”