Philly Critic: Comcast Tower Looks Like ‘Giant Flash Drive’

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The Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic reviewed Comcast’s new 58-story headquarters in downtown Philadelphia and declared it’s really big but “feels blank.”

Comcast Center, which officially opens Friday but already is occupied by Comcast executives, was designed by Robert A.M. Stern and Graham Wyatt, has a glass exterior and tapers toward the top, critic Inga Saffron noted.

It’s the tallest building in Philadelphia at 975 feet. It’s designed to have bright interiors and conserve energy, and has a street-level concourse that could become a bustling urban nexus, she observed, to the building’s credit. A photo gallery on the Inquirer’s Web site shows sculptures of people walking that are in the street-level Winter Garden lobby.

“Yet as the new headquarters for one of America's biggest conveyors of information, it is an oddly uncommunicative presence,” Saffron wrote in Sunday’s newspaper, citing a “vacuous facade” and “smooth, featureless face” that says little about the company’s ambitions to be a vital presence in the homes of millions of Americans.

“Comcast still knows more about us than we know about it,” she wrote.

Saffron said the building smartly tapers up high. “But a bolder architect would have tapered even more, especially toward the top, to form a sharper silhouette -- and to make the building look less like a giant flash drive.”

The glossy glass exterior is meant to make the tower feel ethereal, like the cube atop the Apple store on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, she said. “But at this scale, it just feels blank.”

The Winter Garden atrium on the ground floor feels thin in architectural detailing, she also said, but noted “an 87-foot-long, high-definition art video that is supposed to provide the missing aesthetic richness won't be activated until Friday.”

In her most praiseworthy paragraph she wrote: “Without a doubt, the Comcast Center at 17th Street and JFK Boulevard is a respectable work of architecture. The 58-story tower is clean in its lines, dignified in its stance on the grid, generous in its relationship to the city, responsible in its treatment of the environment.”

She also liked the side views. “The only sense of scale comes from the cutouts on the north and south sides. ... What saves the Comcast design are the corners. From the north and south, it appears as if Stern and Wyatt draped a pewter cassock over their obelisk. They create the effect by nipping pleats into building corners with super-clear Starphire glass manufactured by PPG in Pittsburgh. The contrast gives the tower the dimension it desperately needs, and enables us to read the composition as an intriguing sequence of layers.”

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