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Changing Philadelphia’s Skyline in an Unexpected Place


For decades, the hub of Philadelphia’s activity and the platform for its “cityscape” and skyline was Center City. The skyline has now changed, and it didn’t come from the heart of the City of Brotherly Love. The long-awaited FMC Tower of Cira Centre South, at 30th and Walnut Streets (2929 Walnut Street), is now complete. The Tower is home to the headquarters of specialty-chemical company FMC Corporation, the anchor tenant.


This new tower is one of the tallest buildings in the city, standing at 49 stories and a whopping 730 feet tall, just a few feet shorter than Three Logan Place, formerly known as the Bell Atlantic Tower, at 1717 Arch Street. Developed by Brandywine Realty Trust and designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects with construction administration by local architect BLTa, this mixed-use building is part of a new triad of glass structures in the Cira Centre complex. The lower portion of the building contains retail, office, and amenities spaces, with the global headquarters of the FMC Corporation occupying 11 floors. Touted as Philadelphia’s first “vertical neighborhood” the new FMC Tower in West Philadelphia uses the top 19 floors to house 268 luxury apartments and extended-stay suites, from 1- and 2-bedroom units to penthouses with panoramic views of the Philadelphia skyline.




While FMC Tower is one of the tallest, unfortunately neither of the three projects can claim to be the tallest in Philadelphia. That title will go to Norman Foster’s 59-story, 1,121-foot Comcast Innovation and Technology Center when it opens at 1800 Arch street sometime next year. The reason the Cira Centre development holds together so well is because the designs adhere to a single idea. All the towers are treated as gigantic faceted crystals, sheathed in taut light blue glass. The original 29-story Cira Centre project juts its faceted prow out towards Center City, whereas FMC’s facet cleaves inward, as though the facade were split by lightning. At the 28th floor, where the building shifts from offices to apartments, the tower narrows significantly, following its faceted incline. The 33-story Evo residential tower in the center, with its angular cut outs at various areas, provides the visual bridge between the other two buildings in the complex.


Cira Centre South

Rendering courtesy of Brandywine Realty Trust

The streetscape includes an elaborately faceted arcade that runs under the building’s hem. Its underside is paneled with wooden wainscoting that unfolds like origami from inside the lobby and warms up the ground floor. The lobby and passageway with sweeping glass canopy are some of the fanciest pieces of architectural footwork in the whole Cira complex. The plaza and arcade will encourage more pedestrians to venture across the bridge and down this part of Walnut Street to University City. The developer and architects, along with Turner Construction Company, relied on W&W Glass to make the entrance lobby stunning.


Cira_Centre_South 1


The lobby consists of five wall areas in total with many glass panels measuring in at 5-foot-7-inches wide by 12-foot tall. The designers at W&W Glass used a customized Pilkington Planar structural glass fin wall system with face glass consisting of Pilkington Optiwhite™ low-iron glass insulating glass units with HP 62/29 Low-e coating on the #2 surface. To complement this, the glass fins are constructed with low-iron monolithic tempered and heat soaked glass fins. The fin walls varied in height from 22 feet to 33 feet with a custom interior wood panel ceiling to make a dramatic look.


The vestibule walls and roof consist of Pilkington Optiwhite™ low-iron laminated glass. This intricate project featured two custom freestanding glass vestibule entrances. Another unique aspect to the design is the incorporation of a special laminated glass transfer beam to allow the glass fins above the glass door portals to be loaded to the fins at the ends of the beam. As for hardware and fittings, the design utilized Pilkington Planar 905 series countersunk fittings to secure glass panels to fins.  




The University City innovation district, expected to unfold in several phases over the next 20 years, will eventually include several new skyscrapers in the vicinity. But what makes the FMC Tower at Cira Centre South most obviously different from the rest of the city’s modern high-rises is its branding. Forty-nine stories above the Schuylkill, a huge “FMC” glows bright red, reflecting in the water and presiding over the popular walking trail that traces the river’s banks. Few buildings in Philly are emblazoned with electrified logos in such an iconic way.


In the longer term, the FMC Tower figures into the massive, $3.5 billion Schuylkill Yards development planned in a partnership between Drexel University and Brandywine Realty Trust. All this development is creating a unified Center City/University City downtown with consistently placed active streetscapes for working, living, and learning centers along with an expanded skyline traversing along the Schuylkill River.  


W&W Glass LLC is a family owned business with a 70-year history in the metal and glass industry, one of the largest metal and glass companies in the New York metropolitan area and the largest supplier of structural glass systems in the country. We have over two decades of experience in the design and installation of various building enclosure systems, including stick-built curtain walls, pre-glazed unitized curtain walls, Pilkington Planar™ structural glass facades, and custom metal and glass enclosure systems. We install all of our work with our own dedicated union labor force. W&W is consistently the largest employer of glaziers in the NY metropolitan area.

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