Take a look: Ground-level greatness

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The sculptural passageway of Pietro Belluschi's 1964 Rohn & Haas building (now Dow Chemical Co.) at Sixth and Market Streets, now vividly on display in the Independence Beer Garden.

One of the unexpected pleasures of the new Independence Beer Garden at Sixth and Market is that it creates the perfect vantage for admiring the sensuous geometry of its host, Pietro Belluschi's 1964 office building. Casual Adirondack chairs and picnic tables are arrayed around the building's base, providing up-close-and-personal views of his remarkable torquing concrete columns and the faceted ceiling in the open-air passageway.

These are the kind of design details we pass all the time in Philadelphia, yet hardly notice. It takes a good eye to pick the treasures out of the crowd. That's the purpose of this new fortnightly column, and the reason for its name. As the architect Mies van der Rohe liked to say, "God is in the details." Even ordinary buildings often exhibit remarkable elements that give them life and enrich our surroundings.

Not that Belluschi's building is ordinary. The Italian-born architect was already a celebrated designer when Rohm & Haas, producers of Plexiglas, asked him to partner with local designer George M. Ewing on its new headquarters. Deeply committed to Philadelphia at a time when other businesses were fleeing, the company was the first to build on the just-completed Independence Mall. It was intent on making a design statement.

We tend to look for architectural pizzazz at the top, but Belluschi concentrates it in the base of the blocky, nine-story horizontal office building. The passageway alone evokes the aura of an ancient tabernacle. Unfortunately, like most buildings lining the mall, it was set on a high plinth that always kept us at arm's length from those gorgeous sculpted obelisks.

Since buying Rohm & Haas, the Dow Chemical Co. has been working to change that. With the opening of the beer garden on the plinth, we finally have a good reason to climb the steps. Who needs the typical beer-garden distractions of bocce and shuffleboard when you can instead look at Belluschi's flared, eggnog-colored columns and deeply incised ceiling as you sip your favorite brew?

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DIRECTIONS

Sixth and Market Streets

The best way to experience Pietro Belluschi's sculptural architecture is to enter from Market Street, just west of the Sixth Street corner. A generous staircase rises up to the plinth. Take a lingering look toward Sixth to see the march of shaved columns, then head past the shuffleboard court and turn left into the open-air passageway. Sit down there or continue into the main part of the beer garden.