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Comcast II architect Lord Norman Foster on reversing ‘miserable’ transit options and a bleak Center City block

The man responsible for building the second Comcast tower rarely speaks publicly. Architect Lord Norman Foster considers himself a private person. And being a Briton who lives in Lake Geneva, American appearances are all the rarer despite the fact that he’s responsible for some of America’s most definitive buildings, like Apple’s headquarters in Silicon Valley and the Hearst Tower in New York City.

Tuesday night marked one of those rare exceptions. The Philadelphia Center for Architecture honored him with Louis I. Kahn Memorial Award at Penn Museum, and he gave a speech and engaged in a conversation with WHYY’s Chris Satullo.

For Foster, the night was all about influence. The new Comcast Innovation and Technology Center, he said, is a product of buildings and designs he’s studied that go back centuries, from the the Vitruvian Man to airplanes to open-air markets in Europe. 

Here are three observations he shared about his design for the new Comcast building, which is scheduled to be completed in early 2018.

Foster wants the new Comcast tower to reinvigorate the business district   

“I remember,” he said, “walking to site from a downtown full of life and activities at the sidewalk. And as we got nearer the sidewalk (by Comcast) it became more bleak. I said, ‘it’s important that we bring the sidewalk to life.'”

The building will have public space at the bottom that he wants to be inviting.

Sustainability for the tower through good public transit is key 

Foster wants public transit to be convenient and desirable for people coming to the new Comcast building. He sees it as a way to help the city be sustainable. And Foster believes his planning and design will precipitate that, going so far as to say that below the Comcast tower the transit networks it is connected to will be “uplifting” rather than “miserable experiences.”

Foster is drawing from Philadelphia’s manufacturing past 

Philadelphia was once one of the main cities in the world for making things. Foster says people who work at the second Comcast tower will be “making the innovations and discoveries that will lead to the making of things.” To reflect on what he considers Philadelphia’s tradition, he’s designing the office spaces to resemble old industrial lofts stacked on top of each other.

The office space will be in the middle, with a hotel (“a destination point”) at the top and public space at the base.

“It’s almost like a city in microcosm,” Foster said.

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