Failings of the new Family Court’s design and development process

The new Family Court Building at 15th and Arch is a development already scarred by political scandal, and a design process that was anything but public. In an opinion piece in Wednesday’s Inquirer Joanne Aitken, chair of Design Advocacy Group, argues that the dimly-lit process surrounding the Family Court’s new building also resulted in design failures “in terms of both urban fit and architectural aspiration.”

And now that there is an 11th-hour proposal before the Art Commission to raise the building’s height 15 feet, Aitken argues the budget surplus should be put toward improving the design. She writes: Now, after construction has begun, we learn that the estimated cost – which was previously cited to explain why the building would not be constructed with materials and character befitting an important civic building – was wrong. Now we’re told that there is enough money to increase the building’s bulk even further, though not enough to improve its quality or design. Aitken goes on to lament the Family Court’s development process, itself one giant dark variance from the norm, largely out of sight until all of the decisions had already been made. The system didn’t work in this case because the project was eyeball deep in politics. Aitken concludes: We need to use the system that we have and demand that it functions as intended. That way, this city can expand its architectural legacy and increase its vitality as we Philadelphians want and deserve.

It may be too late to do anything about the Family Court building, other than remember it as a cautionary tale. The Family Court building will be on the Art Commission’s agenda again on February 1.

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