Miniature and the Gigantic in Philadelphia Architecture

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The essays in this book examine scale and measure in the local architectural traditions of Philadelphia, focusing on instances when architects strategically manipulated urban scale to engage a larger mythic narrative. The essays open several such manipulations to view, offering both a means to examine vernacular patterns of old cities and a challenge to contemporary architects to engage the scale and structure of the city in the intersection of experience and narrative. On a broader level, these essays suggest that all architecture defines the city, both spatially and rhetorically. The streets and vernacular buildings of old cities in particular, establish spatial rhythms, which are modulated, punctuated, and interrupted by design. These urban patterns define positions for people by giving scale and structure to the built environment. This study is particularly relevant to contemporary architects who are currently being asked to engage old cities and to construct or reconstruct urban life in America.


“The book paints some tantalizing pictures across a wide canvas – a kind of Mumfordian history of the city in miniature – touching on a whole range of fascinating forces, events, processes and narratives in the history of Philadelphia and, in some ways, all cities.” – Professor Jonathan Hale, University of Nottingham

“This book is a beautiful meditation that ultimately offers a theoretical discourse on the redevelopment of American urban space which was transformed by modern architecture and architects into a virtual world of image . . . Dr. Read’s contribution of original research in Philadelphia provides a much needed approach to urban designers, architects, planners, and engineers, who have lost their ability to understand the importance of tapping into a city’s origins while developing plans for its future. This book provides an important tool for all professionals and non-professionals to learn or relearn as well as revive their ‘fine sense of scale’ in building and remaking this and other cities ‘with grace and precision.’” – Dr. Marcia Feuerstein, AIA, Associate Professor, School of Architecture and Design, Virginia Tech

Table of Contents

List of Plates
1. Introduction: The Measure of Measures in Philadelphia
2. Philadelphia Geometries
3. Above the Roof: Exquisite Miniature
4. Under Philadelphia: Infrastructural Gigantic
5. Framing Difference: The Window’s View
Conclusion: The Poetics of Scale

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