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The Athenaeum of Philadelphia is home to an extensive collection of local historic and cultural artifacts, manuscripts, architectural drawings, and photographs. In honor of its 200th anniversary celebration in 2014, the Athenaeum sponsored a conceptual architectural competition for which designers were asked to imagine the Athenaeum of the future. Our task was to assemble a design development proposal based on one of the competition submissions - one that would enhance its original design concept as perceived by our team. Our proposal, which modified the original as to meet local zoning, building code, and thermal envelope regulations, builds upon the perceived instability of the proposal, in which architectural moments of absence, obstruction, exposure, and inconsistency were employed to further underscore this design concept.
The new 92,500 SF Athenaeum’s exposed two-way flat plate concrete structural system features moments of visual absence and inconsistency on the exterior, enhancing the feeling of its structural instability both inside and out. The building envelope is comprised of a significant percentage of storefront glazing at 32.8%, and is complemented with a floating terra cotta rainscreen facade system, through which sunlight and shadow enhance the visual exposure and obstruction of the exterior site, while maintaining a sufficient thermal rating with regards to the building’s overall balance point temperature. Our team’s design development proposal included studies illustrating our remedy of the original proposal’s applicable zoning & building code regulations [including egress], programming revisions, a preliminary cost analysis paired with proposals for significant initial cost reduction, and building envelope design details & thermal calculations.
One enters the Athenaeum over a turning bridge, where the absent grade beneath seems to give way to the shifting mass of the building above. A wide stair leads users to the three-story great room, a reading space exposed to the exterior [and to itself], below several floors holding the architectural collections. The exposed concrete structural system appears inconsistent, where vertial and tapered columns seem to be in competition to carry the loads of the cantilevering building massing. The building envelope, in conjunction with massing & structure, seems obstructed in some areas, despite its great internal exposure.