A new lease of life for the former Schmidt Brewing Company in Philadelphia
Sam Oberter and Halkin Mason Photography
Mega Supply Pro
The Piazza is an urban regeneration project that aimed to create a mixed-use residential and commercial complex in the Northern Liberties neighbourhood of Philadelphia’s Old City. It redeveloped part of the site formerly belonging to the Christian Schmidt Brewing Company, the city’s largest brewer which was founded in Philadelphia in 1860 but moved away from the city in the late 1980s.
NoLibs is a young, vibrant and rapidly evolving neighbourhood which in recent years has attracted professionals, entrepreneurs, artists and students due to its proximity to the city centre and the variety of accommodation and services it offers. It also has a unique architectural and urban heritage based on its two-centuries of history. In 1985, the Northern Liberties Historic District was created to preserve buildings modelled on Greek Revival, Federal Style and Italianate architecture. More than 200 of its buildings are now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Italian architecture provided the inspiration for The Piazza, the regeneration project completed in 2017 by the Philadelphia-based high-end real estate development company Post Brothers. The architect assigned to the project was the company’s Vice President of Design Rebecca Frisch, whose CV includes collaborations with Pritzker Prize-winning practice Venturi Scott Brown and Associates and with Cecil Baker + Partners.
The Piazza in Northern Liberties stands on a large, irregularly shaped site and consists of four volumes grouped around a central plaza that serves as a connecting and social space. The three newly built volumes make up the Navona complex, inspired by the site’s industrial history in terms of structure, materials and architectural forms. Montesino was created by reclaiming a portion of the former industrial building.
The Cove, located at the centre of the plaza, was created in 2020 based on a design by local practice DIGSAU. It is a private space for relaxation and well-being surrounded by pedestrian paths and large public areas. A small island amidst the residential buildings, it has two swimming pools with a solarium surrounded by green flowerbeds, a low volume containing a gym and wellness centre and a series of small pavilions designed for a variety of functions. Opening inwards, they form socialisation areas protected by a sunshade system as well as fully-functional kitchens that extend the range of potential outdoor activities.
Green reflective glazed panels are positioned between the volumes to demarcate the external perimeter. The triangle is the leitmotif of the project and is used in both plan and elevations to create a sense of dynamism and fully exploit natural light.
Given the obvious references to Italy, it is hardly a surprise that the architects should have opted for Italian products. Ceramic slabs were chosen for the horizontal and vertical surfaces of The Cove in place of the dominant exposed concrete that defines the character of the entire architectural project. The Glocal series from the Italian company Mirage was chosen in the colour Ginger for its ability to recreate the brushed concrete effect even more realistically than the original material. According to Rebecca Frisch, „the warm toned colouring and soft textures of the tiles give the project an even more inviting palette than concrete could offer. A singular material was used on all surfaces, including the walls, floors, inside and outside of the pavilion structures and even on the interior of the pools. This uniformity transformed the overall space into a sleek and attractive destination.“