In my final second year studio class, I designed a small museum to house artifacts found along Lancaster Avenue (near Powelton Village in Philadelphia), preserving the heritage and history of the area as it undergoes extensive redevelopment.

This project took place over the course of eleven weeks and four main assignments: the initial site analysis, the development of a narrative and framework, site documentation, and schematic design. The class ended with a final presentation.




I started by visiting Lancaster Avenue in the areas between 34th St. and 40th St. Afterwards, I created a small study to show the various materials and textures of the area, organized by color. One of the themes of this project was urban decay: when a urban area falls into disrepair through poverty or neglect.



We were required to find several “artifacts” along Lancaster avenue (which amounted to garbage or other discarded objects), document where we found them, and design a framework and narrative to relate them together. The artifacts I found were the following: an old handmade clay brick, an aluminum soda can, and a small poster (an advertisement for a weight-loss program). The framework I designed is a metaphor for the redevelopment of this area of the city.

Placed at the bottom, the brick is quite literally a foundation representing the city's rich history and present condition. Most of the older buildings were made of them. As a material, it is a product of it's time, coarse, uneven, and full of imperfections. Yet it is a testament to the human labor which went into building Philadelphia.

The soda can at the top of the framework represents modernity. A mass-produced machine-made object, it was created with a more advanced manufacturing process. The aluminum had to be extracted from bauxite ore and purified. It is a disposable, recyclable object, and it's easier than ever to make more of them, demonstrating the efficiency and automation which benefits us today.

What is the solution to urban decay? Renovation and reform, as symbolized by the weight loss advertisement. It represents a path forward; an initiative to overcome the status quo both socially and financially. The ad, rolled up into a cylinder, is placed between the other two artifacts to bridge the gulf between the present and future. The framework, made of copper, is a twisted abstract shape which holds everything together.




Our small class was split into two groups, each with its own site. My group was assigned an empty lot at 3607 Lancaster Avenue. After surveying the lot, we were required to create a large ⅛th scale model of the site and 2D documentation (plans, sections, etc.). I took a larger role in this process: I modeled the site and surrounding context in 3D and used it to create most of our documentation and the parts to produce our physical model, which were laser-cut and glued together.

Above: Model geometry from SketchUp imported into AutoCAD.

When the documentation was finished, each of us had to create our own design to fit into the site. 3607 Lancaster is a small lot, highlighted in yellow in the site plan and sections (see above). Adjacent to it is a one-story building; surrounding the building and lot are multiple three-story buildings. Because of the constraints of this space, members of my group were given the option to build on top of the adjacent one story building. In reality, that would be a logistical nightmare, but thankfully this is only a studio project!



Our assigned program was deliberately vague. At the very least, we needed to include space to collect, research, prepare, and display artifacts recovered from Powelton village. We were given the option to incorporate or disregard the aesthetics of the site. I chose the latter, mostly because I'm not particularly fond of the older architecture in Philadelphia. I wanted to create a captivating design unlike anything in the area. Given the spatial constraints of the site, I aimed to design a "box" instead of an unconventional shape, like some of the other designs in my portfolio. This lets me make the most of the space I have - there's a reason most buildings are box-shaped...

The messy model was a 15 minute in-class assignment meant to help us get started. Later, to move forward with the design process, I considered the geometry of the area itself. Lancaster Avenue is a diagonal road which intersects Philadelphia's grid plan. In response to this, I decided to add diagonals into my designs. Study model A is a fairly straightforward scheme, with increasingly recessed levels connected by a single staircase. In model B, each floor is cut in half diagonally, resulting in several alternating balconies. I preferred this; upper areas are harder to see and the pathway through the museum is less obvious, adding a feeling of discovery to each visit.

The exterior design was a bit tricky to figure out. I quickly realized a good approach was to split the Γ shaped front façade into two volumes. I accomplished this by recessing the entrance while extruding the upper area outwards, creating a small volume at ground level and a larger one at the upper floors, dominating the façade.



South elevation of the Lancaster Avenue Repository.

South elevation of the Lancaster Avenue Repository.


The basement is entirely devoted to artifact storage and preparation. Most of the first floor is used by the lobby, but there is additional storage space in the back. The second floor is the main exhibit where artifacts are showcased. Smaller artifacts are displayed in simple, rectangular display cases. Larger artifacts can be suspended from the ceiling in the second floor's double height space. The third floor is for research.


Circulation on the first floor starts at the entrance. One walks through the lobby to the back right corner where they can take stairs (which run along the diagonal cut of each floor) or the elevator. This choice determines where you enter on the second floor. With two different points of entry, and circulation which loops around the floor space, it is difficult to make a controlled linear exhibit that everyone will experience identically, which was my original intention. Instead, the exhibit design should embrace the opposite with an approachable non-linear design, providing each visitor a unique experience.

Note: The circulation diagram excludes the basement and third floors, as they are private spaces with fairly straightforward circulation.