1900 - 1949

As steel construction and elevators made possible buildings of a much larger scale, architects in New York and Chicago were competing to design the biggest and boldest new skyscrapers. In traditional Philadelphia, the first modern buildings were not only lower, but less daring. The 16-story Land Title Building, designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and built in 1897, is considered the city's best example of an early skyscraper and was based on the ideals of the City Beautiful Movement. D.B. Burnham and Co. went on to design John Wanamaker's Department Store in a similar style, with the addition of a spectacular interior central court that rises five floors.

In 1903, Paul Philippe Cret, a teacher at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, came to Philadelphia to establish an ecole system at the University of Pennsylvania. While revolutionizing Penn's architecture program, he designed the Delaware River (Benjamin Franklin) Bridge and the Federal Reserve Bank at 10th and Chestnut Streets. As a proponent of the City Beautiful Movement, Cret redesigned Rittenhouse Square and prepared the original plan for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Julian Abele, Horace Trumbauer's chief designer, is credited with initiating the Neoclassical Revival concept for some of the Parkway's monumental buildings, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Free Library of Philadelphia. Abele was the first African-American graduate of Penn's architecture department.

A group of architectural firms came together to design the Architects Building, an Art Deco office tower at 17th and Sansom Streets, as "a center for the architectural profession and the building industry of Philadelphia" in 1929. The Philadelphia Chapter moved into the 24th floor the next year. Among the building's 20 firms involved were Paul Cret, Zantzinger-Borie & Medary, John F. Harbeson, and Robert Rodes McGoodwin.

At the same time a majestic neoclassical 30th Street Station was being built on the Schuylkill, a new breed of building was rising at 12th and Market Streets. Philadelphia architect George Howe joined with Swiss architect William Lescaze in 1930-32 to design the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society headquarters, which combined ingredients from Burnham's Chicago School with Europe's nascent International Style. The PSFS headquarters is the most outstanding example of Modern architecture in Philadelphia. It is also exceptional for its response to its function and for the quality of its craftsmanship, despite its completion at the height of the Depression. Howe brought the International Style to America with a sense of its possibilities for richness, despite its austerity. That he achieved this in conservative Philadelphia was astounding.