1950 - 1969
In 1947, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission organized an exhibit at Gimbel's department store which showed plans and hopes for a new Philadelphia. A room-size model of Center City was designed by Edmund Bacon, EFAIA (who later became the Commission's executive director from 1949 to 1970). The exhibition was well attended and apparently caught the public's imagination. The Commission later unveiled its written master plan for Center City at the AIA's 1961 national convention, held here in Philadelphia. A remarkable proportion of the proposals eventually were realized, such as the development of Penn's Landing, the Chestnut Street Transitway, and the Gallery at Market East (designed by Bower and Fradley/Bower Lewis Thrower and Cope Linder Associates). The plan also added momentum to the completion of Independence National Historical Park and restoration of the residential neighborhood of Society Hill. The Penn Center office building complex, another result of these plans, rose on the site of the former "Chinese Wall." (Until its demolition in 1954, the "wall" supported train tracks to the Broad Street Station.) Penn Center's initial stages were designed by Emery Roth & Sons of New York and Philadelphia architect Vincent Kling. Although many of Bacon's original concepts for Penn Center were modified by compromises, the results still demonstrated how transportation and retail facilities could be combined in urban centers in an exciting way.
Architectural innovation was brewing in Philadelphia once again. Architect Louis I. Kahn was trained in the Beaux-Arts tradition under Paul Cret at Penn in the 1920s. Through the lean years of the Depression, Kahn began a personal search that eventually led to creating an architecture that was at once ancient and contemporary. The Richards Medical Laboratory on the University of Pennsylvania campus is considered the first unified expression of Kahn's concepts. The Museum of Modern Art cited the lab as "probably the most consequential building constructed in the United States since the war." Kahn's use of brick and concrete, elaborate structural solutions and natural light contrasted dramatically to the prevailing Modernism.
Kahn's search for new forms and meaning in architecture helped to pave the way for Robert Venturi. Venturi, with the 1966 publication of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and several other influential books brought the study of history and style to the forefront of architectural debate again. The Vanna Venturi House in Chestnut Hill sent shock waves through the international architectural community with its inventive juxtaposition of historical and popular references.
Kahn and Venturi weren't the only Philadelphia firms to gain national prominence for local projects in the 1960s. Mitchell/Giurgola Associates, in their United Fund Headquarters on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, pioneered the development of contemporary office buildings with walls that lacked uniformity. Each side of the United Fund building responds to the unique lighting, elevation and other environmental conditions that it faces. And Geddes Brecher Qualls Cunningham designed the circular Police Administration Building (the "Roundhouse") which employed one of the first pre- cast concrete structural systems.
As architects prospered in the 1960s, AIA Philadelphia also grew and decided to hire its first executive director, William Chapman, in 1964. That same year, the Chapter also began publishing a newsletter named the Bulletin.