Monthly Archives: January 2014

Talking CITC, Skyline, with Liberty Property’s John Gattuso

Philly Skyline, CITC enhanced, from the Art Museum | Rendering by Foster + Partners, courtesy of Liberty Property Trust
Philly Skyline, CITC enhanced, from the Art Museum | Rendering by Foster + Partners, courtesy of Liberty Property Trust

Philadelphia’s soon-to-be new tallest tower is settling in to all the usual places. The Comcast Innovation & Technology Center (CITC) already has a Wikipedia page and a Skyscraperpage discussion, six pages and counting. Inga Saffron has already reviewed it. Liz Spikol’s devoted half of this week’s Property content to it. A couple clicks over on Philly Mag, Dan McQuade has issued a proper annotated guide. Even old Philly Skyline has relaunched with a truly new Philly Skyline.

The biggest news in the 2014 local building world, unsurprisingly, involves the biggest media company in the whole world. With 48 hours to let it sink in, I have to think it’s about as Philly a building as we could get: it’s full of conflict. Its design comes from Norman Foster, at the top of the top tier of architects, but it’s not his best work. It’s very good, but it’s not the Gherkin. It shows a loyal, hometown commitment from Comcast–one of the most unpopular companies in the world, especially after the net neutrality ruling earlier this week. It’ll be the tallest building in the city–thanks to a technicality. The 125’ blade–the functional spire topping the building’s core removed to the western side–sits atop a pedestal that itself is on top of the building’s roof, which is shorter than Comcast Center’s roof.

But make no mistake, in spite of such quintessential Philadelphian conflict, the Comcast Innovation & Technology Center is an incredible project that will have eyes on it from around the globe. As Inga mentioned, California’s sprawling monsters of tech, Google in Mountain View and Apple in Cupertino, will use CITC as a litmus test against their own model. Sure, you’re working for Google and Apple, but you’re working in Mountain View and Cupertino, not San Francisco, where Cesar Pelli’s Transbay Tower (currently under construction) will give the City by the Bay its very own supertall.

With CITC, workers will come directly upstairs from a train station that serves every regional rail line and is a five minute walk to the subway, the el, and every trolley line. And where they’ll ascend to is a whole other thing: spacious ‘lofts’ whose arrangement is The Thing.

Liberty Property's John Gattuso, left, and Comcast's Brian Roberts at the grand opening of Comcast Center, June 2008 | Photo: Bradley Maule
Liberty Property’s John Gattuso, left, and Comcast’s Brian Roberts at the Comcast Center confetti party, June 2008 | Photo: Bradley Maule

Liberty Property Trust’s Senior Vice President & Urban Regional Director John Gattuso, a 25-year veteran of the Philadelphia development community who’s had a hand in so much of what Liberty has built from Malvern to Comcast Center to the Navy Yard, sat down with me on Wednesday to talk about the process that’s brought us to the Comcast Innovation & Technology Center.

“This process started in August 2011,” Gattuso says, alluding to the purchase of the parcel then owned by Walnut Street Associates, who had proposed American Commerce Center. “The conversation with Comcast started in earnest in fall 2012, and we were initially thinking in terms of phase 2,” the shorter building initially planned as Two Pennsylvania Plaza on the northeast corner of 18th & JFK. But they realized early on that the programming wouldn’t fit the site.

At that stage, Gattuso and Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts led an RFP for a range of architects–established and up-and-coming, local and international. That coalesced into a group of five firms—which included Robert A.M. Stern Architects (already a client both at the first Comcast Center and at the Navy Yard) (New York), Foster + Partners (London), Renzo Piano Building Workshop (Genoa), and Bjarke Ingels Group (Copenhagen), and Atelier Jean Nouvel (Paris)—to transform the surface parking lot at 18th & Arch into the 21st Century facility representative of a company that both produces and provides content. “This was a compensated design competition,” Gattuso clarifies, “and we stayed in active conversation with each throughout the process.”

After selecting Foster in June, Gattuso, Roberts, and Comcast Vice President of Administration Karen Buchholz began weekly meetings, often directly with Foster, to craft an invigorating workspace. “We asked ourselves, ‘what is office space today?’” Gattuso explains. “Office space used to announce status within a company, or where and how you controlled your workers; now, it’s got to be somewhere people want to work, like Glaxo for example, a place people choose to go to.” The offices Liberty built for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, designed by Stern, opened last year and achieved a Double LEED Platinum certification.

In factoring how to do that—how to design a place people want to come to work—Gattuso says technology dictated the conversation. “In this building, we’re making technology. You don’t end up driving it, or putting it in your pocket—in its essence, it establishes connections, so the building’s floors are open for those connections, for interaction.”

How much of this open space was required? “We had a certain amount of office space in mind, and we knew we also wanted a hotel,” Gattuso says. “Once that’s determined, then you can think of how it looks on the skyline, how it relates to Comcast Center. To that end, this building has been extremely deliberate in its thought process.”

Though there are clear differences between the first and second Comcast towers, they too have a connection, an interaction that feeds the other. “The new building has a different approach than the first one, but each one enhances the other,” Gattuso says. “Comcast Center is classical in its axial planning, but with a modern, glass skin. If it’s guilty of anything, it’s its emphasis on elegance. [CITC] is on an axis too, with Arch Street Presbyterian Church and Comcast Center, but it expresses itself in a more robust way. This building tells you how it’s built, with a textured skin.”

“This is a vigorous, sophisticated building,” Gattuso ultimately explains. “That’s because it’s Lord Foster himself; in it, you can see elements of Swiss Re (in London), of [the] HSBC Building (in Hong Kong).” Likewise, Inga points out CITC’s similarity to Foster’s still-unbuilt Three World Trade Center in New York, and my own first impression likened its appearance to Foster’s Commerzbank tower in Frankfurt.

L-R: Liberty Property's John Gattuso, and Comcast's Karen Buchholz, Brian Roberts, Ralph Roberts, and David Cohen (December 2007) | Photo: Bradley Maule
L-R: Liberty Property’s John Gattuso, and Comcast’s Karen Buchholz, Brian Roberts, Ralph Roberts, and David Cohen (December 2007) | Photo: Bradley Maule

Considering the first Comcast Center took the better part of a decade to come to fruition, and with the advancement of technology in the same 10-15 years since the first conversation began, surely it’s interesting to see how the development process itself has evolved since the Stern collaboration. “The only difference in that regard is a new drummer [in Foster],” Gattuso says. “The band is still the same. This team has traveled a road since starting [Comcast Center], and as you’d expect, communication is vital,” Gattuso describes of Liberty’s ongoing relationship with the communications giant.

“You don’t always have to agree, but you need to establish trust. Because we have trust, we can take risks; we can create a platform to push the envelope and build something great.”

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Upon its completion, the developer, architect, and tenant hope to achieve a LEED Platinum certification with the Comcast Innovation & Technology Center. Comcast Center received a Gold certification in 2009.

No, Seriously: New Philly Skyline!

Comcast Technology & Innovation Center | Rendering by Foster + Partners, courtesy of Liberty Property Trust
Comcast Technology & Innovation Center | Rendering by Foster + Partners, courtesy of Liberty Property Trust

1. Launch new Philly Skyline. 2. Comcast transform Philly Skyline. 3. ???? 4. PROFIT.

That’s some news, isn’t it? Ladies and gentlemen, the 1,121′ Comcast Technology & Innovation Center, by Lord Norman Foster. More images and info and analysis coming soon, but on the quick tip …

  • It looks like the love child of Foster’s Commerzbank building in Frankfurt and Mandeville Place.
  • Two months ago, the President of the United States partied at David Cohen’s house; two weeks ago Comcast SportsNet signed a massive long term deal to remain the Phillies’ primary TV provider; yesterday, a federal appeals court overturned Net Neutrality, giving content control to providers like Comcast; and today, Comcast announced, through the local affiliate of the television network they own, that they’re going to be the tallest on the skyline — again. Oh, and they’re the largest media and communications company in the world. Even Milhouse would agree that things are comin’ up Comcast.
  • The Four Seasons will relocate from a block away on Logan Square to the top 13 floors of the CTIC. (Are we calling it the CTIC yet? “CTIC.” “City I see.” Will it still be called CTIC by the time it opens?) And with the hotel, they’ll bring a new restaurant to the top of the building that will be open to the public. Remember when American Commerce Center was going to have an observation deck? Well, we’re getting it, it’ll just cost a $80 steak à la carte. It’ll probably be worth it, though, for a view a thousand feet up.
  • 59 stories, 1,121′. NBC 10 and Telemundo studios relocated from City Line Ave. Underground concourse extended (first proposed as part of American Commerce Center) to building.
  • Whoa. CTIC. Comcast. Foster. Liberty Property Trust. Major.
  • New Philly Skyline.

Oh — and don’t forget: Philly Skyline I covered the construction of Comcast Center I from start to finish. Relive the Comcastic glory HERE.

One Man’s Trash: Week 2 Report

"Wigwam" does not rhyme with "fig jam" but both are delightful
“Wigwam” does not rhyme with “fig jam” but both are delightful



If Week 1 followed my Local Loop, Week 2 follows my Secondary Swing. As a resident of West Mt Airy, my two best access points to the Wissahickon on foot (as opposed to by car, in which case there are more) are the Cresheim Trail and Carpenter’s Woods.

The erstwhile Fairmount Park Commission officially adopted the 37 acres of Carpenter’s Woods between Sedgwick Street and North Mt Pleasant Road (Mt Pleasant Avenue splits into a North and South at the beginning of the woods) in 1912 as a matter of preserving an important bird sanctuary. (Not an important sanctuary for birds, but a sanctuary for important birds—avian VIPs.)

The trails through Carpenter’s Woods can get a little awkward. For example, instead of coming out of the woods and crossing Wissahickon Avenue at North Mt Pleasant Road—or better still, following the path of Carpenter’s Run through the culver underneath the Wissahickon Avenue superstructure—it puts you onto Wissahickon Avenue mid-block, forcing you to walk on the shoulder of the pretty-busy avenue, worse still when there’s a ridge of plowed snow. And at its north/eastern edge, the trail diverges you away from the natural flow of Mt Pleasant Avenue into the neighborhood, forcing you to backtrack half a block.

Might be time to give this "No Littering" sign in Carpenter's Woods a fresh coat of paint
Might be time to give this “No Littering” sign in Carpenter’s Woods a fresh coat of paint

But those are minor complaints for an otherwise beloved asset, a natural extension of the green space straddling Wissahickon Creek with its own friends group. Carpenter’s Run—sometimes known as Kitchen’s Lane Run in the parlance of the Philadelphia Water Department—drains over 200 acres via a mile-long tributary of the creek. The woods surrounding it include a number of trails and a rebuilt wetland along the banks of the run that eventually tumbles behind the Monastery mansion and stables (built 1747) and finally empties into the Wissahickon near the Kitchens Lane* bridge.

*Kitchen’s or Kitchens? Bell’s Mill or Bells Mill? Allen’s Lane or Allens Lane (or Allen Lane)? This is some #journalistproblem stuff. I appreciate a well-used apostrophe, but there’s nothing worse than an incorrect apostrophe, and as street names like Grays Ferry Avenue and Allens Lane have shed theirs, my inclination is to go apostrophe-less.

After crossing Wissahickon Avenue, I followed the unnamed connector trail between Carpenter’s Woods and the White Trail, residential backyards on the right, the Carpenter’s Run valley on the left, a thicket of invasive bamboo ahead. At the White Trail, I made a quick right and a quick left down Mt Airy Avenue toward the bridge. Here, I hooked a left on the Orange Trail and had to stop immediately where the unnamed run (I’ll call it Mt Airy Run, following the lead of most of the other Wissahickon tributaries that take their name from the closest city street) was absolutely covered in plastic bags. I stopped counting the gray, fortunately unused dog shit bags after a few dozen. There were tons.

From there, I followed the Orange Trail to just past the Kitchen’s Lane Bridge, turning left up the stairs installed by Friends of the Wissahickon last year, and finally came out of the woods and back into the neighborhood at Kitchen’s Lane.

Near the mouth of Carpenter's Run and the Kitchen's Lane Bridge, the Baptisteron marks the site of the first Church of the Brethren baptism, on Christmas Day, 1723.
Near the mouth of Carpenter’s Run and the Kitchen’s Lane Bridge, the Baptisteron marks the site of the first Church of the Brethren baptism, on Christmas Day, 1723.

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Big week on the trash scene!
Big week on the trash scene!

On 15 January 2014, I did fill two standard grocery store plastic bags and one slightly larger shopping bag with collected litter, and gathered three sporting balls, a bottle of antifreeze, and a clothes hanger. Broken down, the Week 2 Haul looks a little something like …

Week 2, sorted and stored
Week 2, sorted and stored

40 (estimated) plastic dog shit bags
1 half-gallon jug Wawa lemon iced tea
1 bag My Essentials white bread
1 bag Shop Rite white bread
1 bag Herr’s whole grain pretzels
1 plastic fork
4 16oz bottles water (1 Nestlē Pure Life, 1 Acadia, 1 Dasani, 1 no label)
1 8oz bottle water (Poland Spring)
5 miscellaneous plastic bags
1 24oz bottle Mountain Dew
1 lid from a Wawa food container
1 wristband
1 doll sticker
1 20oz bottle Asanti(?) kiwi strawberry juice
1 random wedge(?)
1 netting bag, Florida Oranges
1 bottle Mountain Drool (dog toy?)
1 ½oz bottle CVS Dry Eye Relief (HAHA)
1 16oz tub (food container?)
2 packages Capri Sun tropical punch
1 single-serve container, Cesar Gourmet dog food
2 coffee cup lids
2 straws
1 gallon bottle Let’s Roll Antifreeze
1 bag Herr’s salt & vinegar chips
1 4oz Nitro2Go Double Shot (“14 hours of energy”)
1 package Habersett beef scrapple
1 random hunk of plastic
1 wrapper Cap’n Crunch Crunchberries bar
1 wrapper Klondike Mrs Fields cookie sandwich
1 wrapper Clif Kid Z Bar
1 wrapper Ricola lozenges
1 wrapper Tastykake cupcakes
1 packet Popeye’s honey

1 4/5qt bottle malt liquor (no label)
1 12oz bottle Coors Light
1 12oz bottle Corona
1 16oz bottle Coca-Cola
1 16oz bottle Synergy organic kombucha
1 20oz bottle (no label)

2 12oz cups
1 12oz Dixie cup
1 food container

1 16oz Popeye’s cup
1 16oz coffee cup (no label)
1 8oz coffee cup (no label)
1 UPS shipping label
1 Trident wrapper

1 rusty can old food
1 12oz can Coca-Cola
1 12oz can Dr Pop(!)
1 12oz can Diet Coke
1 16oz can Colt 45
1 unopened can Argo green beans
2 12oz cans Natural Light
1 12oz can Michelob Ultra
1 12oz can Rolling Rock (pull tab!)
1 12oz can Pabst Blue Ribbon
1 12oz can Sprite
2 12oz cans Miller High Life (pull tab!)
1 20oz can Budweiser
1 12oz can Yuengling
1 12oz can Mountain Dew
1 12oz can Coors Light
1 20″ bracket
1 piece foil

1 Rawlings NCAA Final Four basketball
1 Adidas Europass soccer ball
1 Wilson Major League baseball
1 tennis ball
1 hard pink plastic ball

1 scarf
2 socks (unrelated)
1 glove

2 rubber gloves
1 fabric cord
1 metal clothes hanger
3 pieces broken ceramic
1 small Bic lighter
1 flag from paving package(?)
4 packs cigarettes: Salem, Camel, Pall Mall, Mavericks

Dog shit bags: 3
Dog shit piles: 4
Dogs on leash: 2
Dogs off leash: 10


PANORAMA OF THE WEEK: bend of Wissahickon Creek at Kitchens Lane Bridge
Bend of Wissahickon Creek at Kitchens Lane Bridge

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⇦ WEEK 1WEEK 3 ⇨

Head in the Clouds

See? Philly Skyline. | Photo: Bradley Maule
See? Philly Skyline. | Photo: Bradley Maule

When I first came across Philly Love Notes, I thought it was an ingenious way to showcase one’s city: 1. Create a platform. 2. Get other people to generate the content. 3. ???? 4. PROFIT. Well done, Emma Fried-Cassorla.

For real for real, Emma has done a great job in her role as an ambassador for Philadelphia (not to mention in her role has communications gal for the Riverfront Waterfront Corporation). She asked me not long ago to contribute my own Love Note, and I went back and forth between picking a place in the Wissahickon, High Point Café in Allen(s) Lane Station in Mt Airy, that spot on the Schuylkill next to the Turtle Rock Lighthouse where you have the sweeping view of the city and river in motion … and ultimately I realized that the PSFS Building made the most sense.

I have many memories there, of the 27′ letters glowing a perfect red 30-some stories above the Disney Hole as I walked toward Market East Station after work in the dark evening; of facing off with the same letters on my first visit to the City Hall observation deck; of the Pocono trout, caramelized brussels sprouts, Tröegs IPAs, and three-piece jazz at Solefood; of the unbeatable views from the 33rd floor. I’ve taken an awful lot of skyline photos from that perch, and from everywhere else, it just might be the best looking thing on the skyline.

So for my Philly Love Note–which as it happens, is the site’s milestone #200–I thought we oughta go see those letters up close, WAY up close, and take in the views. Head over to Philly Love Notes to read my take on the PSFS Building HERE, and click any of the photos below for a slideshow of photos from way up top on a foggy day.

And don’t forget, ye olde (version of the) Skyline includes a ten-year-old profile of the PSFS Building HERE.

Mission Statement or Something

Philly Skyline Commuter Skyline, 2000 | Photo: Bradley Maule
Philly Skyline Commuter Skyline, 2000 | Photo: Bradley Maule

On November 25, 2000, I came upstairs from Amtrak’s Three Rivers train (since discontinued) into the din of the city and inspiring architecture of 30th Street Station. My friends Bekka and Susan picked me up and we headed to Dalessandro’s for a cheesesteak en route to Germantown, where I lived for my first three months in Philly. (We also went to see The Roots at the Electric Factory later that night.)

For those three months, I’d board the R8 every morning at Queen Lane and take it to Market East, from which I walked through the Gallery and Independence Mall on my way to work at 5th & Walnut. The best part of the commute, aside from chatting with Jason Killinger on the platform, was crossing the Schuylkill River, where for 15 seconds you have a lovely, elevated view of the skyline–people shuffling on Girard Avenue, rowers on the river, city coming into view.

Thirteen+ years later, I’m enjoying the same view from the same train (Chestnut Hill West? It’ll always be the R8 to me), set up anew in Mt Airy. On May 14, 2002, I registered as a clearinghouse of sorts for my photography. It grew into a bit more than that, with commentary, breaking news, The Skinny, a first person joyride through the Phillies’ World Series title in ’08, and assists from the likes of Nathaniel Popkin and Steve Ives.

In summer 2009, I took a break from Philly Skyline to road trip across the country, recharge, and finally relaunch the site with blog software. (In all its years, I wrote every post in html live on the server via SSH.) I sketched the header graphic above that summer, with a plan to elaborate on the interactive dealie that had been the header for years. But then Portland happened.

On that cross country road trip, perfect worlds collided in Portland, and I convinced my wife that we should sell our house in Fishtown and move west, way west. So we did. A year later, we were divorced, she came home, and I was alone in my own head in Portland. (Divorce, man. It sucks, it sucks, it suuuuucks.) When Portlandia debuted a year after that, I was fairly certain it was about me: where young people go to retire, hyperlocalism, the dream of the 90s. I made great friends, I enjoyed good beer and grass aplenty, I immersed in breathtaking scenery, I really grew to love the place. But I did miss Philly; that never changed.

By the end of 2012, I was sick of the whole self-evaluation thing and decided it was right to come back. It’s taken me a while to come back around to Philly Skyline, for a number of reasons. One, there are now sixty-three blogs doing what PS used to do. Two, the internet is just different now. Twitter and Facebook have obliterated The Old Way, and I recognize that PS must also be new and different. And it will. Three, I’ve been pretty busy behind the scenes as an editor at Hidden City Philadelphia. (My own archive there is HERE.)

But it’s time to get this show on the road. Philly Skyline, 2014. Yo.

Just a heads up: the version that you see here–a plain ol’ WordPress install–is an interim thing. I’m working with a friend and developer extraordinaire, and what we have coming is going to be huge, robust, and full of information.

That’s what’s key for new Philly Skyline: information. Data. It’s still going to be photo-heavy, but posts will probably be shorter–and hopefully more frequent–as I build the back end of something I think you’ll like, and use. Think Skinny, but lots of Skinnies.

There will also be lots of Fairmount Park oriented posts, particularly of the Wissahickon. Growing up in Central PA, I often took the Appalachian scenery for granted. But Shippensburg’s proximity to the Appalachian Trail got me in touch with the woods, and three and a half years in Portland made me realize just how crucial access to nature is to me, so I moved to Mt Airy.

Architecture, development, nature, art, transit, baseball, music, food & drink … life. That’s what’s happening on the new Philly Skyline. So hey, grab a beer–there’s a growler from Earth Bread & Brewery in the fridge–relax, and please, be patient. (I have Tourette’s Syndrome, and the associated ADHD symptoms often make even tasks that I want to do seem insurmountable.) Construction updates, neighborhood profiles, penny postcards, skyline critiques … it’s all coming back. I promise.

Philly Skyline, the next generation. Finally.

Philly Skyline Commuter Skyline, 2014 | Photo: Bradley Maule
Philly Skyline Commuter Skyline, 2014 | Photo: Bradley Maule

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PS: Even as I fold the old Skyline content into a better archive with tags and such, the old version of the site will remain. It is HERE.