Preserve and Transform the Roundhouse
The former Police Administration Building, widely known as The Roundhouse, at 7th & Race Streets in downtown Philadelphia, was conceived in the late 1950s during the progressive administration of Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth. The city engaged internationally-recognized Philadelphia firm GBQC Architects to design a building that would serve as an icon of modern, democratic, and transparent policing. Dedicated in 1962, The Roundhouse marked a new collaborative relationship between architectural design, engineering and building technology that transformed how buildings are designed and constructed to this day.
Over time, the building became tainted by its associations with destructive urban renewal initiatives and police brutality. In 2022, the Philadelphia Police Department relocated its headquarters to the former Inquirer Building at 400 North Broad Street. The City of Philadelphia intends to issue an RFP later in 2023 for the sale and redevelopment of the Roundhouse parcel at 700-734 Race Street. From August 2022 through February 2023, the city’s Department of Planning and Development implemented a community engagement effort to investigate public views on the site’s complicated past, and to solicit ideas for future development.
The Roundhouse can and should be renovated, transformed and repurposed in a way that preserves an icon of mid-century modern design while encouraging measures to repair historic wrongs associated with police misconduct, racism, and urban renewal practices of the 1960s and ‘70s.
Designed by the internationally-recognized Philadelphia firm Geddes Brecher Qualls Cunningham, The Roundhouse was completed in 1962. It is a quintessential example of Philadelphia School modernism, and among the first buildings in the United States to expertly utilize precast concrete. The Roundhouse stands today as one of three internationally-recognized mid-century modern buildings in Philadelphia, along with the PSFS Building by Howe & Lescaze (now Loews Philadelphia Hotel) and the Richards Medical Research Laboratories by Louis I. Kahn at the University of Pennsylvania.
A Complicated History
The former Police Administration Building has a long and complicated history. Any repurposing of the Roundhouse must contend with this legacy. The building was conceived by Richardson Dilworth, considered one of the most forward-thinking and progressive mayors in Philadelphia history. The building’s image suffered from its association with urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s, and the brutal and racist tactics employed by its main tenant, the Philadelphia Police Department. However, there are several examples of buildings with dark pasts that have been transformed into part of the solution, repairing historic wrongs while maintaining the important buildings themselves.