The new office building at 1200 Intrepid Ave., in the Philadelphia Navy Yard Corporate Center is a sight to behold, described by some as gravity defying in that parts of the structure are designed to replicate the shape of a ship's hull, narrow at the bottom and wide at the top.
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Location: Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia, PA
Type of Precast: Structural (Double Tees,
Spandrels, Shear Walls)
Size: 135,000 sq. ft, including 18,600 sq. ft retail space; 442 spaces (plus 32 on grade)
Garage as Gateway
College and university campus parking garages are often selected for thoughtful aesthetic treatments. In their ongoing campus expansion, Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pa. embraced the notion of their new garage as a gateway to the school. Planners, university staff and Father Timothy R. Lannon, S.J., university president, worked closely with the design team to make the building a transitional area that relates well to the university’s collegiate gothic revival reference.
The genesis of the garage design is Barbelin Hall, Saint Joseph’s most recognized building and a prominent city landmark. Barbelin was built in 1927 by renowned Philadelphia contractor John McShain, who went on to build some of Washington, D.C.’s monumental buildings, among them the Pentagon, the Kennedy Center and the Jefferson Memorial. A classroom building, Barbelin features a150-foot bell tower topped with four spires. Gargoyles and grotesques, some of them comical, mark the building’s quadrangle alongside pointed arch windows. Pedestrians are treated to stone-lined exterior walkways with brick groin vaults.
The design team wanted to honor and interpret this rich architectural tradition, and chose a precast structure from High Concrete Group LLC to fulfill their vision. “We chose precast for the original design of the garage because it gave us more flexibility than cast-in-place,” says John Pringle, project manager for architect Burt Hill. “We also thought it was the best, most economical system in terms of initial cost and long-term maintenance.”
An additional consideration in choosing precast for the project was speed of erection – the design team valued the fact that precast goes up quickly and allows earlier occupancy than other construction methods.
Accessed electronically, the garage offers students 442 new 90º front-in spaces via two-way drive lanes. Fans may park in it during Saint Joseph’s Hawks basketball games.
Parking garages can be the first and last building people experience on a university campus, or any facility for that matter. Through their appreciation of the garage as a gateway, Saint Joseph’s has ensured that those who park in their new garage will form a positive and lasting impression of the school.
The six-story garage was constructed along with two dormitories across the street from the main campus, and replaced an older retail and office building. The presence of residential neighbors on the back side of the garage was an important influence on its size and height. A visual buffer of tree plantings and a new masonry wall respect the boundary with these neighbors.
On the front side of the building, first floor retail space includes the University bookstore, a coffee shop and a restaurant, creating destination and contributing to the area’s walkability. Rather than placing a standard entrance on street level, the design team pushed for an arcade on one end leading to an elevator lobby. The arcade adds pop to the garage, and makes it a much more pleasant and welcoming place. A glass stair tower increases the safety of garage patrons.
As part of the project, the streetscape in front of the garage received new paving, street lighting and trees. Red awnings and banners on the upper building face reinforce the storefronts. Carefully placed lighting draws attention to the banners, storefronts and architectural features to establish an attractive nighttime image while increasing visibility and safety.
Stone features and wood infill lend richness to the store fronts. The facade is finished in thin brick that was cast into the 12’-wide non-load bearing precast wall panels. “Thin brick was very effective as an architectural finish,” says Pringle. “It captured the solidity and human scale of the more significant campus buildings. Then as we got higher, we formed decorative copings and a shield into the precast.”
Expressive grillwork provides structured verticality and mass appropriate for the garage’s urban setting. It also hides the slope of the ramp inside while keeping the garage an open air structure that doesn’t need supplementary ventilation. The grillwork on the front terminates in a horizontal precast spandrel, while on the top metal trim forms nested lancets reiterating the gothic theme.
“The building holds together because of the quality of the precast features,” notes Pringle, “It was much more economical to create architectural features with a combination of precast elements and brick- and stone-faced precast than with hand-built masonry.”
From the standpoint of sustainable design, the addition of structured parking allows Saint Joseph’s to do away with several surface parking lots on the main campus. The lots are being replaced with landscaped lawns and walkways, helping to reduce the urban heat island effect and improve the quality of the campus experience.