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Independence Mall

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1949–1954, Harbeson, Hough, Livingston and Larson; Wheelwright, Stevenson and Lay, landscape architects; 1999–2004 redesigned, Olin Partnership. Bounded by Chestnut, Vine, 5th, and 6th sts.
  • Independence Mall
  • Visitors' Center
  • Liberty Bell Pavilion
  • Constitution Center

The Pennsylvania State House, or Independence Hall group, forms the centerpiece of Independence National Historical Park. Together with the later city hall and Supreme Court, they make up the most important surviving architectural complex in the American colonies of the mid-eighteenth century, first as the seat of government of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and half a century later as the site of the pivotal political events of the American Revolution. Here the Second Continental Congress met that led to the Declaration of Independence. Adopted in the State House on July 2, 1776, and formally approved two days later, it was read to the public in State House Square (PH12.6) on July 8. And here the United States Constitution was written in 1787. With the construction in 1789 and 1791 of the new city and county buildings at each end of the block, the State House continued in its original purpose while the new buildings housed the federal government. Thus the square was the center of the shaping of the new nation, and has been the chief shrine to the nation's freedoms ever since.

Today's Independence Mall had its origins in a Paul P. Cret scheme for a semicircle of columns facing Independence Hall (PH12.2) on the north side of Chestnut Street. After World War II, Philadelphia's city planner Edmund Bacon envisioned a larger space to “balance” the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (PH116) on the west side of City Hall (PH49)—though few ever experience the city as a balanced form except perhaps from an airplane. The mall was redesigned by Olin Partnership in 2004 with the intention of bringing life to the desert of Bacon's original plan by greening the east edge with trees and restaurant pavilions and by adding new interpretive buildings. Unfortunately, what are already in evidence—the bus terminal–like Visitors’ Center; Bohlin, Cywinski, Jackson's oddly industrialesque Liberty Bell Pavilion (2003) at S. 6th and Chestnut streets; and at the far end of the mall, the harsh, corporate, white limestone terminus of the Constitution Center (2000–2003) by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, which repeats many of their favorite motifs at the National Gallery extension of thirty years earlier in Washington, D.C.—offer little hope for the future. During the course of the mall's redesign, it was discovered that the entrance to the Liberty Bell museum leading to the Liberty Bell Pavilion intruded on the site of Robert Morris's mansion, where President George Washington lived during his term, housing his slaves in the rear. Historian Edward Lawler's revisionist history (“The President's House in Philadelphia,” in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography [2002]) of the president's house spurred an extensive redesign of the complex by architects Kelly/Maiello to incorporate the larger story of slavery and its acceptance by the Revolutionary leaders.

The focus of the mall should be the humanly scaled buildings where Americans debated liberty and at the end of the eighteenth century governed their early republic.

Writing Credits

Author: 
George E. Thomas
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Citation

George E. Thomas, "Independence Mall", [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/PA-02-PH12.1.

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 55-56.

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