Cramp Shipyard

I'm just about to start into this, but apparently the building I'm interested in was as part of the I.P. Morris Foundry.


Drexel Shaft Implosion

Taken by myself, standing at 30th Street. The windows of the cira center rippled when the stack hit the ground. I can't believe I woke up early enough to catch it.

There can only be one tallest masonry building in the world...

It's extremely unlikely that the Mole Antonelliana and Philadelphia City Hall share the title of world's tallest masonry building. That would be absolutely ridiculous. I don't think that you could make them the exact same height even if you were trying. The only way that even seems possible to me is if they're both up against some engineering limit of habitable masonry construction, but honestly, that's stupid. One of them has to be taller than the other. So, I'm doing a little research into where these figures of 548 feet are coming from.

From what I can tell, the Mole Antonelliana figures are really inconsistent. In an 1897 engineering journal and separately a 1906 tourism book , the height is listed at 538 and 536 feet respectively:
Now, I read online that in the 1950's the original spire was destroyed, and if that's true it could have been rebuilt higher. But the contemporary numbers are all over the map. The website for the National Museum of Cinema (which occupies the Mole Anotelliana) lists the height at 167.5m (549.5 feet). A 2006 travel article from San Diego Magazine lists the height at 556 feet above the Po, which might not be the same measurement, but if it is, it's almost certainly wrong, because that would make it taller than the Washington Monument. And yet another article in an French travel guide from 2009 lists the height at 163m (535 feet).

It's all dancing around the same height, so maybe they are the same by some weird fluke. But in the interest of settling this tie, I've written to the Museum of Cinema, asking how they know their figure for height. If they're confident, then the Mole should probably be the tallest, but if their figure isn't sourced well, then it's likely that Philadelphia City Hall is taller.


World's Tallest Masonry Building

How is it that Philadelphia City Hall and Turin's Mole Antonelliana, two buildings built half a world apart and finished in different decades, both hold the record for the tallest masonry building in the world. Also, they look nothing like each other. How is that possible?

Really? They're the exact same height?


Some notes from my Urban Economics Class

My favorite concept from the Urban Economics class I took with Dick Voith in 2007 was this:

Housing durability is bad for a city's health when the city is in decline. Since taking the course, my mind has gotten fuzzier and fuzzier on why this counter-intuitive statement is true (if you think it's not counter-intuitive, tell an architect that buildings are built to last too long). A couple of days ago, I found some note from the class. I think these are references to Edward Glaeser's writings on the subject:

1. city growth rates are skewed so that cities grow more quickly than they decline;
2. urban decline is highly persistent;
3. positive shocks increase population more than they increase housing prices;
4. negative shocks decrease housing prices more than they decrease population;
5. if housing prices are below construction costs, then the city declines; and
6. the combination of cheap housing and weak labor demand attracts individuals with low levels of human capital to declining cities.

In addition, durable housing helps account for the connection between urban decline and poverty. The simple correlation between the family poverty rate in 1999 and population growth in the 1990s for places with at least 100,000 residents is _0.48. when urban productivity falls, the most active members of the labor force will naturally flee; but durable housing ensures that their homeswill then be occupied by those that are less connected to the labor market. As our model suggests, the correlation between poverty and a decline in population disappears after one controls for the presence of abundant, cheap housing. this finding may help us understand why declining cities so often are the centers of social distress.

I don't know exactly where this text comes from, but I'll find out. My guess is that it's Voith's powerpoint from the class, and some of Glaeser's text.

Philadelphia Housing History

Starting around 2004, I developed a curiosity about the history of philadelphia housing stock. I was thinking about heading back to grad school for architecture, but I was fascinated by economics and development from working at Toll Brothers.

I had a really hard time finding the kind of info to satisfy this curiosity. Most architecture histories focus on notable buildings and stylistic trends, not neighborhoods or development. I imagine the perfect representation of what I'm looking for is a real time, 3d map that you could play through history from the founding of philadelphia to the current day. But this doesn't really exist (although philageohistory.org is getting close).

Anyway, I've found a really good book on housing development in Philadelphia, focusing on the early 19th century. It's called Making Houses, Crafting Capitalism: Builders in Philadelphia 1790-1850 by Donna J. Rilling. I'm only two chapters in, but I'm surprised how interesting it is. I'm really enjoying the specific stories, the who and why of the men who built metropolitan Philly. One bit I'm particularly interested in: Philadelphia's system of 'ground rent' made it easier for small entrepreneurs to build, vs. boston and NYC, where the established merchant capitalists conducted most of the residential development. It's a nice little contrast of economic incentive that provides a nice understanding of why this city is how it is.


Neat excerpt from 1907 Chicago "City Club Bulletin"

I found a little section discussing housing in Philadelphia at the turn of the century, and they describe the "bandbox house" of Philly, more commonly called a "trinity" today.

"Perhaps you may ask what we may learn from Philadelphia. It seems to me that the principal lesson to us of Chicago was that unworthy standards are perpetuated, generation after generation. For many years the people of Philadelphia have been in the habit of building narrow houses, and they deem it a mark of advancement when they prescribe, as they have recently done, that no house should have a less frontage than fourteen feet. They have houses fronting on very narrow spaces. I myself observed an alley, or street perhaps, running through the block eleven feet and five inches wide, and having on each side of it three-story dwellings. Of course, such standards seem to us out of the question. I am glad that we don't do it in that way in Chicago.

"We also saw an interesting type of house, which had never before been brought to my attention an individual house three stories high one room on a floor. They call this house the bandbox house because it is like a bandbox a yard high and a foot in diameter. I went to the upper story of such a house on a stairway the width of which was two feet and four inches, and it was not a straight stairway; it was winding. If it had been a little larger we might have called it a corkscrew.

"Chicago has 8,000 privy vaults, I am sorry to say. They are mainly in the outskirts of the city, in regions which are to a degree inaccessible by extensions of the sewer system. Philadelphia has 40,000 privy vaults, a great many of them in well built-up localities, where the main sewers are available, or where an extension of the sewer throughout the street will afford such facilities. We saw one region recently built up -- the houses were not older than one or two years -- in which there were 14,000 such privy vaults and surface drainage only for the houses. (p 411)