Monday, September 19, 2011

Old-Ass Building of the Week-- September 19th

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (aka Free Museum of Science and Art)

3260 South Street

This is the only way to see all of it. Picture by Microsoft.
                      This building is awesome, even with its shit-ass 1971/2002 additions. Its awesome even though its only 1/3rd built after 114 years. Its awesome even though its overshadowed by taller buildings and high traffic streets in all directions. Is awesome despite the fact that its had everything working against it since day one.
                      The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology was the brainchild of Dr. William Pepper. Dr. Pepper (I know, shut up) was the Provost at UPenn in the late 1800's. This motherfucker was trying to put Penn on the map (even more) and adding a shitload of departments and buildings to the University.
                     He conceived the idea of having a public collection of artifacts that the school already owned. In 1889, he set up a little area in College Hall to show off some shit. When Furness's new University Library was built, a whole section of it became the Museum. By 1892, a commission was formed to figure out how the fuck they would build a kick-ass building for all this cool shit.
                    Pepper and friends needed it to be cheap, in a good location, but still look awesome enough to respect what was inside. The location was the first to be decided. There was a plot of city-owned land at the corner of South Street and Vintage Avenue (34th Street) that used to be part of the Blockley Almshouse campus. Penn had already started building shit on other parts of the land so it seemed like the right spot, even though much of it was weirdly graded and composed of crappy landfill.
The land in question as it appeared in 1891.
                    Next to be decided was the design. Pepper wanted it to be low-cost but then turned around and got involved with not one but THREE architecture firms. Wilson Eyre, Cope/Stewardson, and Frank Miles Day. Eyre was the main designer of the building while the others did smaller shit.

Wilson Eyre.
                      Pepper went up to Eyre and was like, "Listen, meatface. We need a cool-ass building to show off all these kick-ass artifacts we have. We don't have a lot of money, so keep it simple!!!". Eyre was like, "Oh, I'll keep it simple for you, you cherry-cola drinking motherfucker." This is what he came up with:

Simple, right?
                       This thing was going to be fucking crazy! Three big-ass domes, 3 courtyards facing South Street, building wings everywhere, covered in sculptures and mosaics and shit going on for nine acres.  It was to be built in four phases as funding would allow. In 1898, construction began on Phase One, which would be the northernmost wing. Really it was Phase .75 because the dome was not included.
                       Dr. Pepper died in 1898, so he never even got to see the first phase of his dream, which was completed in 1899.

Penn Museum at Phase .75 in 1907.
                      Phase One sat there looking pretty pathetic until 1914, when construction of the Harrison Rotunda began. This thing was the engineering marvel of its time. It was the world's largest masonry floor dome. It's 90 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter. Once built, this would be, then and now, the coolest-looking part of the museum.

Dome under confucktion...

... and when it was complete. Don't Turn, motherfucker.
                     In 1921, the commission met and decided that the original Eyre plan with the giant domes and shit just wasn't going to happen. They had recently acquired some giant Egyptian crap and wanted to build a new wing to put it in but couldn't afford to do the giant central dome. They built this wing, called the Coxe wing, alongside the Harrison Rotunda and it opened in 1926.

Coxe wing under confucktion.
                         In 1929, plans came along to finally build the central section of Eyre's original plan, even though they had scrapped it in 1921. Money was the problem. They wanted this to be the new grand entrance of the place but they didn't want to throw down too much dough. The new wing would be called the Sharpe Administrative Wing. Eyre, who was pretty old at this point, even designed a new version of the center section. Despite that, the museum was forced to cheap out and build a much less exciting version of it. It ended up becoming the school bus drop-off spot instead of the main entrance.

New Main Entrance plan with big-ass rotunda.
...and how it ended up. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

                        After that, the design stayed put for a looooooooooong fucking time. Then in the late 60's, plans for yet another addition came along. At this point, the idea of doing Eyre's kick-ass original design was a pipe dream... this was the time of ugly concrete garbage, not beautiful brick masterpieces.
                      They went up to the two Great Satans of Philadelphia architecture, Mitchell and Giurgola, and said, "Look, you assholes.... we need a huge five-storey addition that will connect all these old wings. Make sure to make it as ugly as humanly possible, like your other horrific Philadelphia buildings. Just make the exterior part sort-of match the rest so assholes from the future like GroJLart won't complain. Oh, and before you do that, build us a big ugly parking garage to the south so no one can see the museum from Center City.

Stupid parking garage under confucktion.
1971 addition from the front. Fuck you, Mitchell and Giurgola.
Exposed concrete on the new inner courtyards. Eyre is shitting himself in his grave.
                     Mitchell and Giurgola went bananas on this thing. They tacked on a bunch of their trademark exposed concrete duplo blocks in order to make this thing as butt-fugly as possible. Assholes. You think it looks like shit in those pictures? That's when it was new. Today, that addition looks like a bunch of browned-up organized turds with glass in between. Shouldn't have built it out of sidewalk.
                    In the late 1990's, yet another addition was tacked on. This one is a little bit closer to Eyre's original facade but still stands out like a sore thumb because it has that plasticky look that today's modern architecture tends to have. Compared to the 1971 addition, however, it looks like the fucking Taj Mahal. The Mainwaring Wing, by the firm of Atkins Olshin Lawson-Bell (get a better name, idiots) was completed in 2002.

At least the brick color matches.
                       ...And there you have it. This kick-ass building may have a shitload of additions but if you ever try to find a pic of this thing on the internet you'll only find a pic of Phase One, because that's the only one you need. In the 2000's, while the Mainwaring addition was being built, talks began about how the fuck this thing would be developed in the future. Renders for a new addition that would fill in the rear courtyards were floated around in 2005. This would be great (since it would kill the exposed concrete parts), but its probably a dead-ass proposal.

Eyre would not approve, but its already way better than anything Mitchell and Fuckface ever did.
                       Recent rumors have been swirling around about demolition of the museum parking garage and Penn Tower. Could this be for new museum wings, or are they Penn Hospital related? Oh well. I must say, even though this is probably the longest Philaphilia article ever, I didn't even scratch the surface of this building's history. Just the history of the courtyards alone would have made this article reach the Gamma Quadrant. Let me just leave you with this:

Eyre's original 9-acre complex.
How it ended up.


  1. Penn Tower's demolition was rumored, on the inside, to be for a new bed tower.

  2. The oldest part of the University of Pennsylvania Museum contains what may be the earliest and oldest terrazzo floor in the United States, and the lovely mosaics under its eaves are probably the largest outdoor Tiffany mosaics in the world. Plus, the Chinese Rotunda itself is evidently the third largest unsupported masonry dome in the United States. Ninety feet in diameter and 90 feet high, it was completed in 1915 according to ancient Roman techniques, inspired by the Pantheon. Directly under the Rotunda is the Harrison Auditorium, a space rich in Art Deco architectural detail and featuring a dramatic sunburst ceiling. This vaulted ceiling may be the largest floor dome in the world.

  3. Harry's not kidding about that auditorium.

  4. I love seeing my 1970s Legionaire's hotel-cum-office building corked right in that hole there, where the rest of the museum was supposed to be. DON'T expect it to ever get finished...