ICOMOS Heritage Alert – Letter to Mayor of Philadelphia, 26.01.2023

Link to ICOMOS Heritage Alert in web https://www.icomos.org/en/89-english-categories/home/119879-icomos-heritage-alert-philadelphia-police-headquarters

Subject: ICOMOS Heritage Alert – Philadelphia Police Headquarters (Roundhouse),
Philadelphia, USA

Dear Sir,

The undersigned national and international historic preservation and conservation organizations express our serious concern for the uncertain future of the Philadelphia Police Administration Building (aka Roundhouse). The Roundhouse is of national and international significance as well as important to the architectural and social history of Philadelphia. The design of the Roundhouse was shaped by the international experience of its architects, engineers, and contractors as well as their deep knowledge of and commitment to a positive future for Philadelphia’s physical and social environment. Geddes, Brecher, Qualls and Cunningham’s (GBQC) were awarded second place finish in the international Sydney Opera House competition and were recognized as the American Institute of Architect’s national firm of the year. 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 Roundhouse is a unique custom kit of parts, virtually all architectural precast concrete. Estonian engineer, August Komendant’s daring structural design was state of the art in precast concrete internationally. Warren Cunningham’s experience with concrete buildings and airbases in the UK and US, including the National Landmark Wright Brother’s Visitor Center, and the use of the Dutch precasting system, Schokbeton, were essential to realizing the unique form and features of the Roundhouse. On its completion, the Roundhouse was publicized and celebrated nationally and internationally. The Roundhouse retains its significant character defining features and is in sound structural and architectural condition based on cursory observations. Its open plan design is eminently adaptable for a variety of new uses.

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. Currently, international heritage organizations are focused on the preservation and interpretation of places of prejudice, abuse, conflict, and oppression that will inform current and future generations of past acts against equality, equity, and freedom. Acknowledging and presenting the too often brutal and biased policing history associated with the Roundhouse should be a meaningful component of theRoundhouse’s preservation and reuse.

It is understood that the City intends to sell the Roundhouse building and site. 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. We, the undersigned, respectfully implore the City of Philadelphia to:

  1. properly list the Roundhouse on the local and national register of historic places, not only an essential recognition of its importance but also a prerequisite for access to the state and national historic preservation tax credit programs that can meaningfully support private sector investment in its proper treatment;
  2. place an easement and/or deed restrictions on the sale of the property that would protect the exterior character and significant interior features of the building; and
  3. develop substantive criteria for the selection of a purchaser that will give meaningful credit to the purchaser’s demonstrated intent, experience and creative approach to preserving and sensitively reusing the Roundhouse and to the creative and respectful development of the rear of the site.

Thank you for your consideration of the concerns and recommendations presented here. The undersigned organisations stand ready to assist in any way possible in the preservation and sensitive adaptive use of the Roundhouse for the benefit of future generations of Philadelphians and for the benefit of the heritage of the world.

Yours sincerely,

Teresa Patricio, President, International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
Jack Pyburn, FAIA, President, ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on 20th Century Heritage
Uta Pottgiesser, Chair, Docomomo International
Douglas Comer, President, US ICOMOS
Ave Paulus, President, ICOMOS Estonia
Robert Meckfessel, President, Docomomo / US
William Whitaker, President, Docomomo/ US/ Philadelphia
Triin Ojari, Director, Estonian Museum of Architecture

Press release