ICOMOS Heritage Alert - Philadelphia Police Headquarters
ICOMOS is issuing a worldwide Heritage Alert, our most consequential expressional of concern, to amplify awareness of the threat to the Philadelphia Police Administration Building and draw urgent attention to the imminent risk of loss of the internationally significant "Roundhouse" precast concrete building designed by the Geddes Brecher Qualls and Cunningham firm, engineer August Komendant and Eastern Schokbeton engineers.
The Roundhouse is of national and international significance as well as important to the architectural and social history of Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Police Headquarters (PPHQ) represents progressive social aspirations for community-based public safety services, and exceptional design based on international influences and state-of-the-art concrete precasting technology. The pre-computer architecture/engineering/contractor collaboration to produce the PPHQ was not only exceptional for the time, but also foreshadowed the disciplinary collaboration that would come to be essential in the age of digital design and construction that lay ahead.
The Roundhouse is one of the most important works of the internationally recognized “Philadelphia School” of architects for its embrace of the school’s three principles: engagement with its context, influence of social analysis and urban planning and treatment of the building as a complex machine.
The PPHQ is now vacant, and the City has announced its intent to sell the building and site to a developer.
Currently, the Roundhouse is not listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places or National Register of Historic Places. Further, there is currently no protection for its preservation, proper treatment, and long-term maintenance and the City of Philadelphia has not acted on an application for the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places prepared by concerned citizens/advocates.
If the PPHQ is incorporated into a request for developer proposals (RFP), the RFP should:
- establish an easement and/or deed restriction on the sale of the property that requires the building’s appropriate preservation treatment and maintenance over the long term and adapts the building for new uses that are compatible with its significant historic qualities over the long term; and
- give substantial weight in developer selection for their creativity and ability to do so.
Until such provisions are incorporated by the City of Philadelphia into the approach to disposition this unique and exceptional internationally acclaimed mid-century icon to a developer, the potential for disfiguration or, worse, demolition by an insensitive developer remains a distinct and worrisome possibility.
The social history of the Roundhouse is internationally important as well. The unrealized intent for the Roundhouse was to improve Philadelphia’s police/community relations by placing a visitor friendly and aesthetically welcoming police headquarters in the community and moving the police out of City Hall.
The progressive Philadelphia mayor, Richardson Dilworth, elected in 1958, established the original design intent for the PPHQ. The Dilworth administration was undertaking significant police reform and proposed a new police headquarters building that would be in the community, for the community, and distanced from political influence. The new headquarters building was to be a physical manifestation of a progressive public interest goal to have law enforcement be a community service in collaboration with the community.
© Peter Olson Collection, Athenaeum of Philadelphia
© Robert Geddes, PPHQ sketch