Updated plans have recently been released for Two Cathedral Square, a 470-foot-tall, 34-story mixed-use commercial and residential tower planned at 227 North 18th Street in Logan Square. Designed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz and developed by EQT Exeter, with Studio Bryan Hanes handling landscape design, the 700,000-square-foot-plus building is the largest component of Cathedral Square, a redevelopment master plan for the block-sized archdiocesan campus centered on the iconic Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Today YIMBY takes a closer look at the most recent iteration of Center City’s latest trophy tower.
The building will offer 450,000 square feet of office space on floors two through 14. Luxury residential space will span 250,000 square feet on floors 15 through 34. The ground level will feature 4,500 square feet of retail. The development will also include parking for 200 cars as well as a bicycle storage room. The building will be serviced by eight office elevators, two residential elevators, a freight elevator, and a swing passenger-freight elevator within the residential component.
The structure will take up roughly the northern third of the superblock bound by Race Street to the south, Vine Street to the north, North 17th Street to the east, and North 18th Street to the west, and situated a block east of Logan Circle. The building’s previous, conceptual iteration was tentatively known as Cathedral Square Phase Two (and Cathedral Place Phase Two prior to that), and was listed under the address of 1700 Vine Street.
Cathedral Square comprises a thorough redevelopment of the archdiocesan campus, which is centered upon the cathedral, which was completed in 1864. Although the cathedral is a landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places, its fenced-in, parking-dominated, anti-urban campus left much to be desired, and its redevelopment will bring much-needed improvements to the site. One Cathedral Square is a 23-story, 273-unit residential tower that is already under construction at 222 North 17th Street at the southeastern corner of the superblock. A landscaped public space called Cathedral Plaza will sit mid-block at the eastern side of the site between the Cathedral and the two new high-rises.
Two Cathedral Square will offer a vast improvement over the site’s current condition, replacing a fenced-in, pedestrian-unfriendly parcel consisting primarily of a large parking lot, as well as a four-story building of the Holy Family Center and an adjacent green space that was off-limits to the general public.
Despite its bulky scale, the proposed building’s sensitive siting and massing ensure that it neither overwhelms the adjacent landmark church nor overshadows any of the stained-glass windows that illuminate its spectacular Renaissance interior. The tower recedes in a series of graceful, curving setbacks from its main entrance at North 18th Street.
The first setbacks is sited above the sixth floor, roughly halfway up the office portion of the skyscraper. The next setback occurs at the 15th floor, around 220 feet above the sidewalk. At this point, the office portion of the building, which takes up the lower floors, makes way for the slender residential section, which rises from the structure’s northeast corner (as far away from the Cathedral as the site allows) and spans roughly one-quarter of the building’s total footprint.
The lower setback will approximately match the height of the Cathedral’s nave, while the second setback will rise roughly to the level of the 209-foot-high cross atop the dome. As such, the setbacks will read as a contextual extension of the Cathedral’s massing, minimizing visual competition with its majestic, intricate exterior.
Each of the setbacks will be topped by tenant-accessible open space. Two minor terraces the second and fourth stories will feature office tenant roof gardens, while the much larger decks at the seventh and 15th floors will be dedicated to shared outdoor space for office and residential tenants, respectively.
The office component will offer floor plates measuring 30,833 to 39,268 square feet with 14-and-a-half-foot-high ceilings.
Given its sensitive approach to the site, as well as fantastic degree of improvement at the pedestrian level, we have no issue with such a massive structure rising next to the venerable Cathedral.
There would have been a problem if the developer cheapened out and opted for a budget-rate eyesore. To our great pleasure, the opposite is the case here. EQT Exerter, an investment firm with a global portfolio, had contracted Solomon Cordwell Buenz, one of Philadelphia’s leading architecture firms, which crafted a design worthy of the prominent site.
A staggered bronze grid, with a tiered hierarchy of gently projecting I-beam-styled mullions and recessed bronze panels, adds character and texture to the predominantly glass curtain wall. As such, the building is able to supply the ample sunlight and views that floor-to-windows provide to both office and residential inhabitants, without descending into trite “glass box” territory.
The bronzed, glass-ceiled canopy at the main entrance is a natural extension of the design aesthetic, as are the round columns that frame the all-glass walls of the lobby and retail spaces within the ground floor, which is capped with 20-foot-high ceilings.
Curving edges soften the presence of the bulky structure, with flowing curves that add elegance to the composition. A gentle slant at the tower crown creates an understated yet notable element at the skyline level, which is an important consideration given the building’s future prominence and visibility on the skyline.
The building will appear especially striking once the city eventually (hopefully) caps the sunken Vine Street Expressway with a park, creating ample public space immediately to the north.
Two Cathedral Square will add an instantly imageable element to the Philadelphia skyline, dramatically improve the pedestrian experience in a former “dead zone” within the centrally-sited neighborhood, and strengthen the connection between Center City proper and Lower North Philadelphia to the north, all while adding hundreds of thousands of square feet of top-tier commercial and residential space. As such, YIMBY looks forward to further progress on the proposal.