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While stumbling around the Northern Liberties neighborhood looking at all of the new development, I spied down a narrow street an apartment building with a Corbusier-meets-Mondrian facade.  As I moved in for a closer look, I was confronted with the block-sized project that is The Piazza at Schmidts.  Developed by Tower Investments, Inc., and designed (in whole or in part) by Erdy McHenry (who did Liberties Walk),  the site features an “80,000 square foot open-air plaza with free events year-round, surrounded by three new buildings including 35 artist’s studios and boutiques, four new restaurants, 500 apartments and 50,000 square feet of office space” (according to their website; see also the New York Times Article).

As you move down the street, an open-air passage leads into the central courtyard, which is lined with galleries, restaurants, and shops (all of which were closed when I was there) and features artfully placed umbrella tables.  And a bandstand.  And a big TV showing old movies.  The scale and the lack of activity lent a Terry Gilliam-esque feeling to the space.

The space plays host to a number of public events, including a farmers market, lingerie show, as well as concerts and movies, which seem to make good use of the space and appear to be well used in return.

The entry court on the far end of the plaza, directly across from the Liberties Walk entrance, felt too open, with another Erdy McHenry building, the Rialto, a little unmoored (though the ground-floor retail and likely outdoor seating in warmer months may close the gap a bit).

The overall effect for me was overwhelming.  The scale of the liner buildings — even though the ground floors have numerous activating uses and entrances — feel too monolithic.  The public space feels too private.  While there are enough beautiful public spaces in Europe to provide precedent for any number of configurations, including the one built, I think a public right-of-way along an edge or through a portion of the space would have helped to integrate it better into the surrounding fabric, and could easily be closed down for public events.

6 Responses to “NoLib3: The Piazza at Schmidts”

  1. GK

    Why does it always seem there has to be a tradeoff between architecture that is compelling and places we want to be. Of course, the day these pictures were shot look particularly bleak. But still….

    The 4th pic down shows a paver-ed plaza to the left, a line of trees and a plain concrete sidewalk in front of the buildings. I am not sure why I would ever want to cross this boundary to get close to the storefronts and barring any lingerie event, I am not sure why I would want to remain in the plaza.

    I think the scale and interest of the buildings is fine, above the first floor. From the sign band down it all seems a disaster, as if architects, who can do something well from that point up are incapable of solving the problem below.

    The tradeoff seems to be the one drawn by Elssworth in Silver Spring…..I wish we had the imagination for alternatives.

  2. claudia Kousoulas

    As insightful as ever. And thank you for introducing the phrase “lingerie event” to the blog.

  3. Joe Alfandre

    Could it be my imagination, Elza or do you prefer to do your wanderings in Philly instead of MoCo? I hope you’re not walking off too much steam up there and return on Mondays sufficiently satiated yet never sanguine enough to take the edge off your work here. Do you think the Northern Liberties and Fishtown neighborhoods are following prior urban behavior? Is the open end accross from Liberties Walk taking a terrorist turn because it got through Security, or the plan ran out of steam? The Piazza lives deserted and lively? You seem content with that contradiction. It looks like it’s trying too hard in the pic.
    Joe A

  4. Joe Alfandre

    What’s Philly got that we ain’t got? As long as you come back every Monday, Elza. Is there a prior urban behavior to the North Liberies and Fishtown ‘hoods & why they can be good? Does the plan just run out of gas at the open end across from Liberties Walk, or was too much money spent in between? The Piazza is deserted AND lively? It looks like it’s working too hard.
    Joe A