Blogosphere: Changing Skyline

Posted: March 29, 2013

Here are some of architecture critic Inga Saffron's blog posts from the last week. You can see others at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/changing-skyline.

Workplace squatters at Glaxo

I went down to the Philadelphia Navy Yard yesterday [March 21] to take a look at the architecture of the new GlaxoSmithKline building, but what really caught my eye were the desks, er, workspaces. Glaxo's new offices are organized around the concept of hoteling, where employees aren't assigned their own desk or cubicle. Instead, they're encouraged to float around the building, checking in where they're most comfortable. This might be one of the comfy, colorful chairs in the light-saturated atrium, a big all-purpose table near a corner window overlooking Lincoln Financial Field, or at a cafe table in the coffee lounge. For the more traditional, there are work tables that can be raised and lowered, depending on whether you like to work sitting, standing or perched on a yoga ball. When they need to work collaboratively, people coalesce into teams at one of the many large tables.

The big advantage of this arrangement for Glaxo (though maybe not for Philadelphia's Center City) is that it has been able to cut its office space needs by 75 percent from its old space at 15th and Vine. Even though there are roughly the same number of employees at the Navy Yard, about 1,300, it didn't seem the least bit crowded. Amazingly, 30 percent of the company's space is set aside for amenities, like the atrium.

I'm going to be reviewing Glaxo's new headquarters on April 5, so look then for a fuller treatment of the architecture, interior design, and planning implications of its move.

Carl Dranoff's evolving taste

One thing you can say about Carl Dranoff's taste in architecture is that it's getting better.

He held a lavish groundbreaking extravaganza for his latest, and smallest, apartment building on South Broad Street, a.k.a. the Avenue of the Arts. SouthStar Lofts isn't great design, but it's not pink, either, like his first foray, Symphony House, by BLT Architects.

His new, 85-unit project is a straightforward, loft-style building and was designed by JKRoller Architects, the same firm that did Dranoff's 777 Broad Street project. They've dropped the froufrou, art deco flourishes this time, in favor of clean lines and big windows. Although we still need to see the materials and detailing, the design shown in the renderings has also improved since its original iteration in 2011, when it was called Casa Verde. The best thing about the project may be the 10,000 square feet of retail that strongly anchors the South Street corner. The entrance is on Broad Street, at the northern end of the building, and the retail wraps around to South Street. If Dranoff is able to secure a strong tenant, this project could help tie together the two rebounding ends of South Street.

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