May 08, 2014 by Sage Magee
When taking on the daunting task of quantifying what makes something beautiful, symmetry is the crown jewel. Symmetry expresses an air of purpose and thoughtfulness. However, bold asymmetry can also be a striking artistic device. Marilyn Monroe and her iconic beauty mark, Picasso’s “Portrait of Dora Maar Seated,” and Beijing’s China Central Television building all possess an “off-balance” element that is so audacious and yet so pleasing that an onlooker cannot help but be drawn in.
As one might imagine, mesmerizing asymmetry is a difficult artistic goal to attain. The line between intentionally off balance and messy is a blurry one. Unlike a painting gone awry, an artist cannot so easily tuck away a building with blushed cheeks. So naturally, years of thought go into the design of a new structure. With all this in mind, I wonder what went wrong with West Philly’s newest residential tower, the evo, part 2 of the Cira Centre triad, which failed to achieve either of these design elements it seems to have been going for.
The three ultramodern concrete-and-glass towers began with the eponymous office building that recently hosted the world’s largest Tetris game. Plans as late as 2013 demonstrate a harmony between the three that nestle the Internal Revenue Service building and 30th Street Station tightly in their bosom. All have (or are to have) dramatic glass-clad triangular faces that flawlessly reflect the passing clouds. The towers lead the newest trend in Philadelphia development: to further gentrify University City and increase the neighborhood’s desirability. And as a bonus, the project will create construction and service jobs, and generate revenue for the city.
Evo itself is bursting at the seams with amenities. From a rooftop infinity pool to fully furnished apartments and an acre of elevated green space, the luxury student housing will be coveted. So what could be this building’s fatal flaw? It’s hideous. Until its construction, it was slated to be sleek, slim and positively glamorous. But when the promotions began and the images were revealed, something was different.
The edifice is still all glass, but the panes are of varying sizes and shades of blue. Every umpteen arbitrarily selected floors, there is an awkward V-shaped concavity that looks like an architectural wound. Worst of all is the base of the building. Evo does not stand heroically above the soil that gave it life, nor does it seamlessly blend into the pedestrian level. Rather, it stands clumsily with its skirt hiked up. The base begins with glass on one side and exposed concrete supports on the other.
Thematic consistency is crucial to the aesthetic integrity of a building, and it is a quality evo lacks. Nowhere else in the tower is the industrial skeleton exposed, and that inconsistency brings me to evo’s most bothersome quality of all: trendiness for the sake of trendiness. There is nothing wrong with being on the cutting edge of design, but to alter a wonderful plan to be more interesting to a fictional audience that demands the latest trends in their new luxury apartment is silly.
If it was decided late in the game that the building was too plain, more elegant changes easily could have been made that would have maintained evo’s planning-stage glory. For instance, had the apartment and common-space floor plans been tessellated in five-story blocks, the two-tone windows would cascade on beautiful diagonals in a repeating pattern, a significantly better design than the current haphazard arrangement.
Another small but impactful change would be simply to extend the glass facade to the ground and draw the eye to the entrance level with color rather than pollute the already eccentric shape with more structural design.
I am still excited to see the interior and do not doubt that living there will be the height of college luxury, so long as you don’t look at your own building, that is. Evo is in many ways a cautionary tale of what happens when a building is a bit too much of a try-hard.
Sage Magee is a sophomore architectural engineering major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.