The eighteenth-century Georgian buildings in the Society Hill area, such as Independence Hall and the Samuel Powel House, reflect the early architecture of Philadelphia. In our small group discussions, we discussed aspects of Georgian architecture, which often include a symmetrical façade, regularly spaced rectangular windows, and a decorative cornice below the roofline. As a treat, the site manager of the Powel House, Jennifer Davidson, gave us a private interior tour, highlighting key elements such as the fragile Rococo plaster designs ornamenting the ceiling of the second-floor ballroom. Professor Brownlee whetted our architectural palettes with weekly presentations about the architects and the sociopolitical contexts of the creation and development of each site.
For our midterm project, we each undertook a site analysis on our choice of four areas in Philadelphia: New Market, Elfreth’s Alley, Washington Square, or Christ Church. Professor Brownlee encouraged us to identify the dates and styles of what we saw during our site analyses and to avoid routine discussion of the owners, architects, and residents. This proved to be a challenge because we had to use clues from historical maps and land-use surveys to describe changes over time, while avoiding mere recitation of the history of the site. My classmate, Saumya Khaitan, who studied Christ Church, shared, “It was particularly interesting to learn about the various stages it was made in and the changes that were made to it over the years.” Overall, this assignment proved to be very instructive because we did research similar to that of architectural historians by reaching conclusions based on primary source works.
Our semester consisted of many sites rich with architectural significance, including Eastern State Penitentiary, the Fairmount Water Works, the Rodin Museum, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and City Hall. At Eastern State Penitentiary, I was astounded when our professor, who was on the preservation board, told us about how they financed the restoration through the annual Halloween haunted house at the Gothic prison. Ellen Freedman Schultz, Director of Education at the Fairmount Water Works, kindly took us below the nineteenth-century buildings to see the original water wheels and the foundations. In addition, we had the extraordinary opportunity to have a personalized tour at City Hall with Greta Greenberger, the director of the building’s visitors’ center. In our class trip to the Rodin Museum, another classmate, Daniel Tuveson, was moved by the early twentieth-century modern approach to classical Greek and Roman architecture, stating, “I think the architecture of the Rodin Museum is beautiful and unlike any of the other sites we have visited.”