Architectural Luminaries of Philadelphia
When it comes to world-class architects and architectural styles, Philly has a rich history. From 19th Century Colonial design through 20th Century modernism, our City is a showcase of outstanding architectural luminaries. While this list isn’t exhaustive, we encourage you to use this guide to acquaint yourself with some of the great architects who have shaped our beloved city of Philadelphia and beyond.
Benjamin Latrobe – Known as the “Father of American Architecture, Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) was born in England and came here in 1796. He was a NeoClassical architect, known for designing the Bank of Pennsylvania, America’s first Greek Revival building, which was destroyed 60 years later. He also designed the South Wing of the U.S. Capitol and the Old Baltimore Cathedral (aka Baltimore Basilica) the first cathedral in the nation.
William Strickland – A student of Latrobe, William Strickland (November 1788 – April 6, 1854), was a proponent of the Greek Revival style. He designed the Second Bank of the United States, 420 Chestnut St.; the Merchants Exchange, 143 S. Third St.; Independence Hall, 520 Chestnut St.; Old City Hall, 5th & Chestnut; St. Peter’s Church 3rd & Pine St.; and Walnut Street Theater, 9th & Walnut.
Frank Furness – A master of Victorian architecture, Frank Furness (1839-1912), designed over 600 buildings, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Broad & Cherry St.; Fisher Fine Arts Library, 220 S. 34th St.; Ritz Carlton Hotel, Broad and Chestnut; Centennial National Bank, 32nd and Market (now the Paul Peck Center of Drexel University); the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, 2125 Chestnut St; and the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, originally designed as a resort hotel in 1890. These are just a sampling of Furness buildings, homes and interiors to be found throughout Greater Philadelphia
Horace Trumbauer – A native Philadelphian, Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938) is most well-known for the Philadelphia Museum of Art. However, he also designed palatial estates for the wealthy robber barons of his day, such as the Georgian-style 110-room Lynnewood Hall in Elkins Park and Grey Towers Castle in Glenside now the campus of Arcadia University. He also worked with developers to design homes for many middle-class planned communities, including the Overbrook Farms.
Julian Abele – Julian Abele (1881-1950) was the first African American to graduate from Penn’s School of Architecture in 1898. He apprenticed Trumbauer and worked with him on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, then went on to design the Central Free Library, Penn’s President’s House, Harvard’s Library, and many buildings at Duke University.
George Howe – George Howe (1886-1995) introduced the International style to Philadelphia in his 1932 design of the PSFS building, 12th & Market, now a Lowes Hotel. It was considered to be the first truly modern building, not just in our City, but in the nation. He later collaborated with Louis Kahn and Oskar Stonorov.
Louis Kahn – Louis Kahn (1901-1974) is best known in Philadelphia for his creation of the Richards Medical Research Laboratories, 3700 Hamilton Walk on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, and Esherick House, 204 Sunrise Lane in Chestnut Hill. He is internationally revered for the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, and his 1982 floating National Assembly Building in Bangladesh.
Edmund Bacon – Known as the “Father of Modern Philadelphia,” as well as the actual father of actor Kevin Bacon, Edmund Bacon (1910-2005), served as Executive Director of the Philadelphia Planning Commission. He was the driving force behind the creation of Penn Center, Market East, Penn’s Landing, Society Hill, Independence Mall, and the Far Northeast – all of which removed large segments of the City in order to bring it into modernity.
Oskar Stonorov – Oskar Stonorov was a German Jewish immigrant who managed to flee Germany in 1929, just before the rise of Hitler. He worked with Philadelphia architects Louis Khan, George Howe, and Robert Venturi on many projects. In 1954, Stonorov was chosen by the Quakers as “the most socially minded architect in Philadelphia” for his redevelopment of Fairmount Avenue. His mid-century modern apartment buildings include Hopkinson House, 607 S. Washington Square; Casa Fernase, 13th & Lombard; and Cherokee Apts, McCallum St & Wolcott Drive in Chestnut Hill.
Robert Venturi – Robert Venturi and his wife Denise Scott Brown are among the major architectural figures of the 20th Century. Venturi served as Louis Kahn’s teaching assistant at the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture and went on to teach at Yale and Harvard. He is best known for the post-modern Vanna Venturi House in Chestnut Hill, built for his mother in the early 1960s, and Guild House, 711 Spring Garden St.
Romaldo Giurgola – Romaldo Giurgola (1920-2016) was an Italian architect who taught architecture at Penn before becoming chair of the Columbia Architecture Department in 1966. Along with Khan, Venturi, and other contemporary architects, Giurgola was considered part of the Philadelphia School of architecture. His buildings in Philadelphia include the Penn Mutual Tower, INA Tower, and United Fund Headquarters.
Eugene Kohn – Contemporary architecture is a combination of many styles, including high-tech, deconstructivism, neoclassicism, and sculptural. The term high tech may be applied to buildings designed by architect Eugene Kohn, a native Philadelphian whose internationally acclaimed firm, KPF, is based in New York City. Kohn’s local work includes Arthaus, the 47-story glass tower, 301 S. Broad St.; the 60-floor Four Seasons, 1 N. 19th St.; Children’s Hospital; and a new terminal at the Philadelphia Airport.
A city with Philadelphia’s rich architectural history needs to focus on the balance between preservation, sustainability, and the long-term health impact of the built environment. If the recent expansion of the Schuylkill River Trail and green spaces along the Delaware River is any indication, we are hopefully headed in the right direction.