My Favorite: Building

As promised, I will not bitch and moan week in and week out. So this week lets go to a happy place- the first of a series of “My Favorites” will highlight a favorite building. The handful of well-designed downtown buildings are kind of like one’s children, it’s impossible to pick a favorite. So, if in the future if I refer to another building as my favorite, just roll with it. I’ll be doing my best to stay away from the usual suspects and try to point out things that would ordinarily escape notice.
So, with no further ado, this week’s favorite building is…(drum roll please…)

Yes, Citipark, the brutalist structure on the northwest corner of MLKing and Chestnut. Architecturally speaking, the term Brutalist is not in reference to “a quality of being cruel or savage” but after the term that refers to the finish of the concrete. Béton Brut refers to concrete that is left unfinished after the forms are removed, thus showing the imprints of the material that the form was made of (plywood, wood planks, etc). At first glance, it’s a building only an architect (or concrete salesman) could love. The building is a 6 level parking structure of béton brut concrete, glazed red tile, and glass. From an aesthetic standpoint, I have a visceral reaction to it. I just like to look at it. From an urbanistic standpoint it embodies a fair few of the principles of good urbanism. There are no doubt more beautiful buildings from an artistic standpoint, and there are also better examples of urbanism downtown- but this is my favorite for combining the best of both worlds.
(Before some ass points it out, yes I see the irony in the fact that I have named a parking structure a favorite building while constantly making the case that downtown is for people not cars. What can I say, the heart wants what the heart wants.) 
About the Form
I love the simple geometry. The dominant feature of the building is a curved ramp, the repetition in the form gives the cylindrical volume rhythm and motion.  The concepts of rhythm and motion are further expressed in the columns supporting the parking trays. The negative space between the trays is forceful and figurative. I’m also a sucker for the variety of texture: rough concrete, glossy red tile, smooth glass.

In addition to being beautiful, the building functions well from an urbanistic standpoint. The building is built to the sidewalk and frames the pedestrian realm. The height of the building mass is almost exactly the same width as the street it frames (Chestnut). That 1:1 ratio of building height to street width creates comfortable, human scale proportions for the “outdoor room” we speak of so often. 
 If I have a critique it is that I don’t particularly care for how they handled the corner of MLKing and Chestnut. Triangular corners can be tricky I guess. I also miss the CitiPark signage that has been replaced by a corporate logo.
Nothing against the mark or the company, but I'm a font freak.

About the Function
The building is multi-story, and respects the fact that land is scarce downtown. It takes cars off of the sidewalk and puts storefronts in their place. It has effectively removed 3 full city blocks of surface parking while still providing space for other activities on site. The building is multi-use, currently housing an optometrist, a sandwich shop, a printing company, a brokerage, and a convenience store.
Parking structures downtown are generally a good idea, however, some can be more effective than others in terms of location. In one of his concepts for the redevelopment of Philadelphia, Louis Kahn proposed that parking structures surround the core of downtown. In this case people would arrive downtown, park their car on the perimeter and the entire core of downtown would be reserved for buildings and parks to be accessed by pedestrians. For a number of reasons, that particular plan was never going to happen, but the idea that we should devote scarce resources to buildings and people rather than automobiles is as sound as a pound.
Louis Kahn Civic Center, project, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The location of this structure is perfectly suited to its function. In theory, visitors to downtown could exit at MLK, park at Citipark, then spend the rest of their visit downtown as a pedestrian. But as we all know, theory and practice can be two different things.
So the next time you enter downtown from Exit 1A from US-27 have a look up at CitiPark, and don’t hate it ‘cause it’s beautiful.


  1. The corporate logo could be much worse.

  2. Fair comment Planning Team. A minor quibble of mine, I have absolutely nothing against the logo or the bank. I should have clarified that I'm a typography geek, and I thought the choice of typeface was a good one for the building.

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AV4IoCgi2QA
    Have you seen this video? Keep a lookout for the parking garage about a minute in. I was driving past the Citipark garage the other day and was thinking about all the colors it could be. I'm sure that's the painter in me.

  4. Thanks for reminding me of such a cool building! And yes - the heart wants what the heart wants and sometimes that is massive amounts of menacing concrete.

    I love, love, love the shape of those supporting columns and frankly had never noticed them! Shame on me. I think a field trip with my camera is in my near future...