Momentum - Volume 1 Issue 1

Page 1




VOLUME 1 Issue 1

Rohm & Haas headquarters, completed in 1964 by Alexander Ewing and Associates, won a 2014 Special Recognition Award from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.





VOLUME 1 Issue 1



Classic Rohm & Haas...........................................Page 4

Contemporary Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia...........................Page 10

Continuing EwingCole............................................... Page 14

A series of louvered sun screens made of corrugated Plexiglas wrap the concrete.


Rohm &Haas With 50 years upon which to reflect, it makes perfect sense that EwingCole’s origins are a matter of chemistry. The interdisciplinary firm traces its roots to the headquarters of chemical company Rohm and Haas—the design a quintessential collaboration that laid the groundwork for EwingCole’s future. When Philadelphia cleared three blocks north of Independence Hall in the 1950s, the city opened a vista toward America’s birthplace, and in the process, created park-side real estate for private investment. At the time, the Rohm and Haas Corporation declined an opportunity to build a sprawling campus in Fort Washington and instead became the first company to relocate to the new Independence Mall. The resulting building, a significant ninestory concrete structure delicately wrapped in the company’s signature product, Plexiglas, turned 50 this year, a testament to collaborative design and robust modernism. In honor of the milestone, EwingCole received a Special Recognition Award for the building at the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s annual Preservation Achievement Awards held June 4, 2014. Since Rohm and Haas opened in 1964,

EwingCole has grown into a large multidisciplinary firm with a robust portfolio ranging from hospital campuses to Super Bowl stadiums. In 1958, Rohm and Haas retained George M. Ewing Company to renovate and expand the company’s headquarters on Philadelphia’s Washington Square, which company president Otto Haas, Sr., saw as most economical. Following his death and the appointment of his son Otto, Jr., as president, and with the encouragement of Philadelphia leaders Mayor Richardson Dilworth and planner Ed Bacon, Rohm and Haas opted for a bigger, more visible presence on Independence Mall. Alexander “Alec” Ewing, George M. Ewing’s youngest son and a partner in his father’s firm, took the lead on the project; Rohm and Haas’ Director of Facilities and Architecture Stanley Cole represented the client. Initially, their design

garnered a lukewarm critique from an Art Commission sensitive to the project’s proximity to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Rohm and Haas’ chief financial officer William McClintock insisted that a design consultant with an international reputation be added to the project team. In 1962, Ewing engaged Pietro Belluschi, fresh off a controversial design with Emery Roth and Walter Gropius for New York’s Pan Am Building, and at the time, dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, to become that consultant. Alec Ewing, now 93, recalls the ensuing collaboration vividly: “The design proceeded in a true association relationship. Stan [Cole] and I would go to Cambridge, Mass., for critiques from Pietro or he would come to Philadelphia and work with us ‘on the board.’ The process began by my associate Sandy Toland and me developing pre-schematic alternates and Pietro producing his suggested design. Together, we designed an excellent structure.”


Rohm & Haas was the first company to relocate to Independence Mall, the centerpiece of the newly created Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia.

One requisite of that excellent structure came from Rohm and Haas directly: the incorporation of the company’s most successful product, Plexiglas. Taking cues from Eero Saarinen’s John Deere World Headquarters, the Ewing-Cole-Belluschi team crafted a series of louvered sun screens made of corrugated Plexiglas to wrap the concrete structure. While Otto Haas, Jr., and his brother John lobbied for a sky blue color, Belluschi suggested that a blue would overpower Independence Hall, and convinced them instead to use an earth tone. The resulting bronze panels appear dark, almost black from Independence Mall, but they emit a translucent coppery hue when viewed through the screens in natural sunlight. In addition to diffusing morning sunlight, the exterior’s Plexiglas panels soften the otherwise bulky concrete structure, for a decidedly subdued contrast with the building’s colonial neighbors. Inside the building, Plexiglas proves its versatility on the diaphanous walls of the boardroom, the undulating ceiling of the elevators, and most memorably, in the first floor light fixtures by Hungarian artist György Kepes. Kepes, a contemporary of Belluschi’s at MIT, designed several cruciform-shaped light fixtures featuring

hundreds of Plexiglas rods each, a striking design element in the airy lobbies. The lobbies, fashioned of prismoidal concrete forms supporting teak walls with aluminum sconces, are intentionally tall to provide views of Independence Hall. The Haas brothers demanded an excellent, but not flashy, building. Rising nine stories and 157 feet, the Rohm and Haas Building measures 270 feet x 150 feet on Independence Mall and Market Street, respectively, with a grand entrance via stairways from both to a plaza atop a plinth. Flaring concrete columns frame the large ground floor windows and a portal leading to a courtyard. The outdoor space features Clark Fitz-Gerald’s Milkweed Pod sculpture, a fountain, and a connection to an adjacent parking garage. “There’s no doubt in my mind that that building, Rohm and Haas, was the catalyst to EwingCole,” says the firm’s senior vice president Donald Dissinger, a former president of AIA Pennsylvania who began with EwingCole in 1985. Beyond the simple formation of the company, Dissinger says that the Rohm and Haas project guided the firm’s multi-principled approach. By the early 1960s, the George M. Ewing Company had plateaued as a family-

owned firm. George’s ambitious son Alec, with whom he remained close, wanted to take it further, and with his father’s blessing, founded Alexander Ewing and Associates in 1961. In addition to architects, the younger Ewing

There’s no doubt in my mind that that building, Rohm and Haas, was the catalyst to EwingCole,” says the firm’s senior vice president Donald Dissinger, a former president of AIA

Pennsylvania who began with EwingCole in 1985. included engineers, planners, and interior designers in his firm to build on the vision of collaboration—not only of design, but also of leadership and ownership. Later, when his father’s firm dissolved, Alec’s company absorbed

many of its employees and clients. “It was a gracious transfer,” Dissinger says, underscoring the relationship between father and son. With the Rohm and Haas Building, the new Ewing company’s collaborative process hit the ground running, with Ewing as project architect, Cole as Rohm and Haas’ project manager, Belluschi as design consultant, and constant input from the company’s executive Haas brothers. Maintaining the

Health System and the Philadelphia Phillies to United Therapeutics and West Point Military Academy. In 1979, EwingCole moved into the Federal Reserve Bank Building from its smaller offices at 400 Market Street, where Alec Ewing and Stan Cole worked with Pietro Belluschi to refine the Rohm and Haas Building into a modern classic—one that has aged well. Bucking the tradition of waiting at least 50 years

A successful architect must have a backup staff and an extraordinary client. Rohm and Haas was the very best. relationship fostered during the building’s construction, Cole left Rohm and Haas to join Ewing in 1968, forming the first iteration of EwingCole. With a unique corporate structure that encourages constant transitioning leadership and ownership, the firm has since cultivated a diverse client list, from the Geisinger

for a building’s nomination, Rohm and Haas was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. In summer 2014, restaurateur Michael Schulson further engaged the Rohm and Haas Building with its historical park neighbors by opening the Independence

Beer Garden. The 20,000-squarefoot temporary space, designed by Groundswell, invited guests to relax in a verdant landscape meant to contrast harmoniously with the geometric concrete forms above. In that sense, the garden extended the collaborative philosophy begun on the same site 50 years earlier. Reflecting on the Rohm and Haas Building’s role in his firm’s foundation, Alec Ewing reminisces over Belluschi’s guidance. “There are very few Pietros in any generation... He fully understood that it takes dozens of well-trained and fully experienced architects and engineers to develop the design of a building like this one.” Ultimately, what’s most important are the lasting relationships formed through projects like Rohm and Haas. “All participants that made this building possible enjoyed and benefited from its development,” Ewing recalls. “It is just as important that hundreds in the building trades constructed it well. A successful architect must have a backup staff and an extraordinary client. Rohm and Haas was the very best.” 

Plexiglas, the Rohm & Haas flagship product, proves its versatility in the first floor lobby chandeliers designed by Hungarian artist György Kepes.



This summer’s opening of the Independence Beer Garden on the Rohm & Haas plaza adds another attraction for visitors to Independence Mall.



Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia With their Rohm and Haas building garnering critical acclaim and proving successful to the client, EwingCole and Pietro Belluschi teamed for two encore projects. The small but distinct University Lutheran Church of the Incarnation in West Philadelphia, which held its first service in 1970, was followed three years later by the Philadelphia Fed. Their third collaboration defined the next phase of EwingCole and gave the growing firm a new home. In 1973, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia needed new facilities for its eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware region. Belluschi, then a consultant for the Federal Reserve System’s central offices in Washington, D.C., recommended EwingCole for the commission. Representing a government-civilian collaboration, the Philadelphia Fed design included corporate offices above the government’s floors, while carefully attending to the security needs of the bank. Positioned just one block north of Rohm and Haas, the Philadelphia Fed anchored the growth of Independence Mall only steps from its forefathers’ First Bank of the United States. At 830,000 square feet, the eight-story Philadelphia Fed occupies nearly an entire city block. To maximize natural light and

to furnish large, uninterrupted floor plates, EwingCole designed the building in a clean, figure-eight composition with two courtyards, one interior and one exterior. The exterior courtyard provides access to parking and includes a canopied walkway to protect visitors from the elements. The enclosed interior courtyard, named Eastburn Court for former Philadelphia Fed president David Eastburn, bathes in sunlight from the skylight 130 feet above and houses Alexander Calder’s mobile sculpture, “White Cascade.” The Federal Reserve Bank maintains 12 branches across the country that conduct the nation’s monetary policy, provide and maintain a system of effective and efficient payments, and supervise and regulate banking operations. EwingCole’s design for the building not only met these needs,

but also provided facilities for a deep and highly secure vault, a research library, an incinerator to destroy unfit currency, training facilities, a firearms range, and an off-site screening facility with a green roof. Additional amenities include a gym, a dry cleaner, and Café Philadelphia, a cafeteria on the third floor that opens onto a balcony facing Independence Mall. On the first floor, tourists are encouraged to learn about American currency and banking history at the “Money in Motion” exhibit. The Philadelphia Fed stands as not only a major commission, but also the firm’s long-time headquarters. Since 1979, EwingCole has called the sixth floor of the building home. The unique arrangement enables design solutions for the bank’s evolving security needs, as well as a spacious home for the firm, by the firm.

Eastburn Court: Home to Alexander Calder’s last work, “White Cascade,” and the Money in Motion exhibit open to the general public.


EwingCole’s third building on Independence Mall is an eight-story structure that occupies nearly an entire city block.

Beverly Pepper’s “Phaedrus”

Calder’s original miniature study model for his last work hangs in the small atrium adjacent to Eastburn Court.

Founding Fathers: Alexander Ewing, above, and Stanley M. Cole.

The Philadelphia Fed earned two landmark sculptures as part of the city’s Percent for Art program. Composed of stainless steel rods and 14 white aluminum discs, “White Cascade” measures 100 feet from top to bottom and 60 feet across at its widest. Powered by an electric motor mounted on the atrium ceiling, the mobile rotates on a radius of 32.5 feet so slowly it’s imperceptible. Including the motor, the mobile weighs roughly 10 tons. It was Calder’s final mobile— and the largest in the world. The second sculpture, Beverly Pepper’s “Phaedrus,” faces Sixth Street just outside the building’s main visitor entrance. The 12-ton stationary steel sculpture balances a 19-foot-tall series of abstract, white triangles mounted at an angle that seems to defy gravity. 



Ewing Cole With its previous lease set to expire, EwingCole faced a decision to remain in the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia building or find a new home. A combination of good timing and a new vision for an existing space made the decision easy. “The office reflects EwingCole in that it’s clean, simple and flexible,” says Bob McConnell, AIA, of the firm’s renovated offices. He would know, as the firm’s Director of Architecture and principal in charge of the renovation. Designed by EwingCole in the early 1970s, the Fed has been the firm’s home since 1979. The building’s large floor plates accommodate the U.S. Treasury’s banking and security needs on lower floors. The wide open space on a single level also enables collaboration of EwingCole’s different disciplines. “We have a very unique and special situation by having such a large floor plate,” McConnell says of the single-floor office that covers 70,000 square feet—nearly two acres. “We’d easily have to take up two or three floors in any other building in Center City; in this arrangement, we’re able to integrate seamlessly.” Seamless integration benefits the firm of architects, engineers, planners, and interior designers. “I’m an interior designer and I sit

next to a structural engineer,” says Director of Interior Design Gayle Lane, IIDA, LEED AP. “Just that proximity helps add to the understanding of what goes into a building.” McConnell agrees: “The culture of the firm is by nature collaborative; 95 percent of what we need is in-house, so we need face time.” To best facilitate that face time meant tearing down some walls. Spacious, flexible workstations replaced a labyrinth of small cubicles. Expandable tables on wheels create popup workshops. One worker’s partition is another’s dry erase board. “It’s meant to ebb and flow as needed organically,” Lane explains. Other strategic improvements include hoteling stations for colleagues visiting from other offices, sleek personal closets at each station, rolling file cabinets with padded tops for makeshift seats, and most notably, electronic sit-to-stand desks. Sit-to-stand desks encourage better health by improved posture and circulation, provide team

Conference rooms and open work spaces are filled with borrowed daylight from the grand skylight of Eastburn Court.


Spacious, flexible workstations, tables on wheels, and rolling file cabinets with padded seat tops enable spontaneous interaction.

One worker’s partition is another’s dry erase whiteboard.

members with flexibility in how they work, and offer a better way to communicate. “With our previous stations, coworkers would struggle to share space at a computer screen, and it would be an effort to keep people engaged,” McConnell remembers. But with the new, adjustable-height desks, “standing actually saves room and allows for the natural movement of conversation.” “It’s a balance,” Lane observes. “You want to be open and collaborative in the flex space, but still have enough privacy to put your head down and focus.”

McConnell, Lane and Loos lead the project renovation team to create an open flexible environment that reinforces the firm’s culture of collaboration.

Concurrent to the planning and layout of the work environment was the business of making the firm’s space as sustainable and energy efficient as possible. The renovation project was phased in quadrants across the floor, so as not to interrupt the office’s productivity. With documents now scanned and saved electronically, space once allocated for paper storage has been eliminated by 90 percent. And thanks to rewiring and new

That renovation reinforces our culture of collaboration in a multidisciplinary firm, with a re-energized space and a renewed lease, it also carries EwingCole into the future.


Bob McConnell, AIA Director of Architecture

Gayle Lane, IIDA, LEED AP Director of Interior Design

Jared Loos, PE, AIA Vice President of Operations

Electronic sit-to-stand desks encourage better health through improved posture.

lighting that harnesses daylight throughout the building, energy bills have gone down by an incredible $1 million per year. The renovation earned LEED Gold certification, and has driven the firm to exceed efficiency expectations as the norm, especially when retrofitting other existing buildings. “The last time we renovated our office, technology was different, and the culture was a bit different,” says Vice President of Operations Jared Loos, PE, AIA. “Today our workflow is much more dynamic and collaborative.” “That renovation reinforces our culture of collaboration in a multidisciplinary firm,” states Loos. With a re-energized space and a renewed lease, it also carries EwingCole into the future. 


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