We keep hearing about how America doesn't make anything anymore, yet a low-slung modernist factory has been chugging along a mere two blocks north of Philadelphia's downtown for more than 70 years. Today, its assembly lines turn out a variety of industrial cleaners for National Chemical Laboratories. But when the plant at 10th and Callowhill opened in 1935, the liquid that coursed through its network of pipes was beer.
The Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church has endured all sorts of turbulence since Bishop Richard Allen settled its members at Sixth and Lombard in 1791, yet the building that houses the congregation today radiates an enduring calm that is steadying in an uncertain world.
Now that we appear on the verge of electing our first female president, let's recall the early activists who made this watershed possible. When women like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton weren't barnstorming around the country, demanding that women be given the right to vote, they would retreat to a corner of Northeast Philadelphia to relax and strategize in a cozy stone house that was designed in 1891 by a female architect for a female client.
There were moments during last weekend's opening of the supersize Whole Foods at 22nd and Hamilton when it felt like half of Philadelphia was in the store, all trying to navigate their carts between the German-style beer hall and the artisanal cheese room. Nothing says a city has arrived like a suburban-style supermarket.
With its chunky tower, curvy corners, and antennalike cross, Our Lady of Loreto in Southwest Philadelphia has the look of an early, art deco airport terminal. That's no accident. The small parish church is near Lindbergh Boulevard, on the way to Philadelphia International Airport, and it was designed to celebrate the miracle of flight, of both the religious and technical kind.
You could practically hear the ka-chings reverberating down Philadelphia's East Market Street in 2011 when City Council designated the corridor a "special advertising district." The measure turned the walls of buildings into gold by allowing giant digital billboards that can flash lucrative ads every few seconds.
It probably didn't seem like a lucky break at the time, but Marc Kushner and Matthias Hollwich had the good fortune to start their architecture firm, HWKN, in 2007, at the exact moment the economy was imploding. Eager to keep busy, they sought refuge on the internet and put together a website aimed at struggling young architects like themselves, with posts about jobs and design projects.
The Brewerytown neighborhood gets its name from the dozen or so beer-makers that once gravitated to this western corner of North Philadelphia alongside the old Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. Today, only one of those great brewery complexes remains reasonably intact, the F.A. Poth Brewing Co. at 31st and Jefferson Streets.
Changing Skyline: City Council's Clarke and Blackwell push outdated proposal to turn Philadelphia into suburbia
Watch out, Philadelphia. Here come the suburbanizers. A mere four years after City Council approved a modern zoning code designed to encourage traditional urban densities and transit, two of its most powerful members are campaigning to take us back to the bad, old days when neighborhoods were hemorrhaging population, city planners were managing for decline, and the idea that Philadelphia would cease to be a real city seemed like a real possibility.
In the big, ongoing festival of American culture, the National Mall in Washington is the main stage. Ever since the Smithsonian Institution erected its imposing stone castle there in 1855, the linear park has been assembling an all-star lineup of museums
As the name implies, the Philadelphia Housing Authority's speciality is housing. Though its designs have been a mixed bag - from the dystopian Schuylkill Falls towers to the gentle, rowhouse-scale MLK houses - the agency has ensured that thousands of low-income families have a basic roof over their heads. It might surprise some to learn that PHA is the city's biggest residential developer, the landlord for about 81,000 people.
Sure, the lines in the marble-paneled post office at Ninth and Market moved at a glacial pace. Sure, the clerks were often uncommunicative and even surly. But what did it matter when there was so much architectural plenty to keep your eyes sated for the entire wait?
Krista Yutzy-Burkey remembers how her hands shook last year when she and her husband, Steve, signed the contract to buy a century-old public bathhouse at Front and Girard in Fishtown. With its dramatic arched entrance and soaring interior, the building was perfect for their new business, an arts-focused children's play space. The location, not so much.
Inga Saffron, The Inquirer's architecture critic, writes about architecture, design and planning issues. She was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism. Her popular column, "Changing Skyline", has been appearing on Fridays in the paper’s Home & Design section since 1999. In 2012, she completed a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.