Philadelphia’s Main Street runs through the city’s Manayunk neighborhood, an industrial mill town reborn in the late 20th century as a vibrant strip of restaurants, bars, condos, and nightlife. Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates relocated its office to Manayunk at the dawn of this renaissance. One of the architecture firm’s contributions to the life and excitement of the street is through displays in the two huge storefront windows that span much of the building’s ground-floor façade. The displays serve as a social interface and streetscape enhancement along with experimental large-scale canvases. Blending wit and artistry with the sensibilities of commercial signage, they complement the streetscape ribbon of merchandise, traffic, and pedestrians, while also standing out.
The displays feature illustrations of VSBA’s building projects, ornamentation, furniture, drawings, decorative arts, plans, and other interesting exhibits. Using modest materials such as paper, foam core, and vinyl lettering, the designers create bold impact by playing with scale, pattern, and rich colors.
VSBA often collaborates with outside institutions and artists, showcasing, for example, Philadelphia’s Charter High School for Architecture and Design, the Fabric Workshop and Museum, the Children’s Aid Society, the Fairmount Park Art Association, and fashion designer Nicole Miller (whose shop is across the street). Displays in the two windows relate to each other and to the broader context. For example, when Nicole Miller’s dresses were featured in the windows, the design team also created architectural motifs for the fashion studio’s windows, creating a playful dialogue spanning the street.
VSBA’s windows are meant to be viewed from multiple perspectives: from across the street and close up, from passing cars, by the young and the old, and by harried shoppers and lazy strollers. To appeal to all of these audiences, the firm also incorporates some element that serves as a kind of high-reader sign—an alluring big splash that can be seen and comprehended quickly—as well as layers of more intimate details, smaller text and information readable to those who approach the windows for a closer look.
With the recession, Manayunk’s Main Street has become pocked with empty storefronts, making VSBA’s contribution to the life of the street even more important.
“I applaud this firm’s effort to engage with their community and respond to the current issue of the economy, which has resulted in empty storefronts in most American cities. I congratulate this firm for their desire to bring imagery-positive messages to what would otherwise be urban blight. I would like to see a program like this adopted by city councils around the country to address these conditions that are occurring in almost all of our cities.”
Jeremy Tenenbaum, John Izenour, Jessica Tidd (designers); Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi, Nancy Rogo Trainer, Daniel McCoubrey (principals in charge)
Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates