Aug. 09–In the heated competition for the worst new architecture in Philadelphia, the sickly yellow, synthetic-covered mid-rise across from the Reading Terminal Market is now the one to beat.
If the particular ugliness of the new Home2Suites at 12th and Arch Streets seems familiar, it is because this type of flimsy, style-challenged hotel is already a fixture at highway off-ramps across America. Grateful for shelter in far-flung places, we grudgingly accept the lack of architectural effort, even if we do slink off in the morning without so much as a backward glance.
It is a different matter entirely when a white-bread-loaf of a building like this makes its way onto a downtown street, into the company of chiseled stone centenarians like the Reading train shed. For people who have to walk by — and this includes the legions who visit the Convention Center — the effect is like being handed a plate of plastic play food at a fancy banquet.
Until now, even Philadelphia’s most basic buildings have accepted the architectural requirement that they put on a tie and jacket when they’ve come into Center City. Their builders have employed respectable materials and tried to create something unique to the site. But Home2Suites is evidence that the postrecession building boom has altered the financial calculus.
Just as fashion has become a throwaway commodity, so has architecture. There’s a reason highway chain buildings are constantly replaced. In a decade, Home2Suites’ Eifs facade will start to look worn out. The exterior is unlikely to survive past 30.
All this would be bad enough if the developers — Parkway and the Wurzak Hotel Group — had built the hotel entirely on their own dime. But as often happens in Philadelphia, this $59 million plastic box was enabled by lavish subsidies from the city, state, and federal governments, including money allocated under the recent stimulus program.
Philadelphia has a long history of underwriting some of its worst architecture. Symphony House condos, a notorious contender in the race to the bottom, received government support. So did the bland, new glass apartment tower 2116 Chestnut. Both are beauties compared to the hotel.