For architects, some projects hit home more than others. As partners at Gensler with deep connections to Philly, this is the case with 76 Place, a development that could transform a great American city.
As colleagues who are always asking each other “what if,” helping envision a new home for the Sixers offers the opportunity to apply some blue-sky thinking to our beloved city. As Inga Saffron notes in her recent column, this is a complicated structure built into an even more complicated site. It’s above rail, between Chinatown and fronting historic Market Street. There’s no doubt that the logistics are hard. But what if we take our time to get it right? What if we explore a range of options and think of potential concerns not as a reason to abandon the vision, but rather to pursue with even more rigor? Perhaps we owe the city that because of the meaningful opportunity at stake to make the human experience in and around the site so much better.
We’re thinking differently about what 76 Place could be. We know Philadelphians demand meaningful, authentic experiences. What if we created a new kind of arena, one that engages with surrounding neighborhoods and doesn’t turn its back to the street? What if the fan experience was integrated with an entire neighborhood every day, not just on game-days? Moreover, what if we created a place that is authentically Philly? What if we could create a destination full of great food, culture, and people while respecting, embracing, and uplifting our neighbors?
We believe these outcomes are possible and will pursue these design explorations over this multi-year process with diligence. More than two months ago, the development team agreed to lift the event floor above the station per SEPTA’s suggestion, thereby addressing Inga’s concerns about potential impacts. This allows Jefferson Station to retain its iconic tile mural and preserve natural light penetration. Similarly, we envision tapping into the existing underground mall service level with capacity for 24 18-wheelers. In doing so, trucks wouldn’t need to load from the street. With the street level unlocked, outward-facing restaurants and retail could elevate the everyday experience around the site, regardless of whether a game is happening.
We could make what already works even better, and revitalize what isn’t working. The two blocks of the existing Fashion Mall to the east allow the fan experience to be more than a one-block story. Here, the existing bridge over 10th Street can provide another entry to the arena, and the public spaces within the mall can be reimagined for game day and non-game day opportunities.
At Gensler, we have built our reputation addressing difficult design challenges. Like 76 Place, Boston’s Hub on Causeway at TD Garden and Nashville’s Fifth + Broadway were faced with tight sites and multiple stakeholders. We designed solutions by engaging with the community and picking apart the complicated issues — architectural, social, and political. Together with the community, we created destinations in dense, disconnected neighborhoods. These interventions created great places for people, spurred new job growth, and drove economic development. In each case, the outcome was never 100% determined at the early stages of the development, and 76 Place should be no different.
Our early experiences in Philadelphia are foundational to what we bring to our practice. For Jordan, as a graduate student at Penn in the mid-1990’s, the vibrant neighborhoods and public spaces across this city became the living classroom for his architecture education. Walking the wide boulevards of Broad and Market Streets became his pathways to connect with the city in a way that keeps him coming back to teach and work. Maddy is a Philly girl born in the golden days of Sixers Basketball. Billy Cunningham was running the show and Dr. J introduced us to a little move called the slam dunk. Iverson’s grit was her inspiration as she swam toward her quest for Olympic glory. This franchise became fundamental to who she is as a Philadelphian.
As partners at Gensler who have a deep love and appreciation for the city, we’re proud to be part of a development team committed to getting the design right, which requires exploring options and doing so in a manner that engages with the many stakeholders in the community. Design is not a solo art, and that is certainly the case with 76 Place.
Jordan Goldstein, Co-Managing Principal at Gensler, is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he has also taught.
Maddy Crippen is a Principal at Gensler. She is a Philly native, decorated competitive swimmer, and Villanova grad who competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics Games for Team USA.