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11 Facts About Philadelphia's City Hall

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Philadelphia City Hall, once referred to by Walt Whitman as “a majestic and lovely show there in the moonlight,” has stood as an architectural wonder in the city's center since 1901. Here are 11 facts about the seat of Philadelphia’s government.

1. WILLIAM PENN LAID OUT THE BUILDING'S SPOT 200 YEARS BEFORE IT WAS BUILT.

William Penn, who founded the Province of Pennsylvania in 1681, planned the city of Philadelphia in a grid pattern between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. In the center, he set aside five parcels of land for public spaces, including a “Centre Square” that was designated for public buildings—the future site of City Hall. Inside City Hall is a plaque inscribed with Penn’s “Prayer for Philadelphia” that he composed prior to departing for England.

2. CONSTRUCTION TOOK 30 YEARS AND COST NEARLY $25 MILLION.

After years of political wrangling about the location, construction began on what was to become City Hall in 1871. But completion of the project stretched into the following century, and the political machine in the city led to numerous delays and cost overruns, with the price tag eventually reaching more than $24 million. The interior of the building was finally finished in 1901.

3. IT (SORT OF) HELD THE TITLE OF WORLD'S TALLEST BUILDING FOR 14 YEARS.

The designers of City Hall, including Scottish architect John McArthur, Jr., intended for the building to be the tallest in the world upon its completion. But its long gestation period allowed the 555-foot Washington Monument (which opened in 1886, then reopened in 1888) and the 984-foot Eiffel Tower (completed in 1889) to take the title. Once a massive, 37-foot statue of Penn was erected atop City Hall in 1894, however, it reached 548 feet tall and surpassed the Ulm Münster (530 feet) in Baden-Württemberg, Germany as the tallest occupied building in the world (although it wouldn’t officially count until opening in 1901). The 612-foot tall Singer Building in Manhattan debuted in 1908 and held the title for one year.

4. IT WAS PHILLY'S TALLEST BUILDING FOR NEARLY 100 YEARS.

A long-held “gentlemen’s agreement” among city developers ensured that no building in Philadelphia would reach past the tip of Penn’s hat at 548 feet. But in 1987, the 945-foot One Liberty Place—which was spearheaded by real estate magnate Willard Rouse—opened at 17th and Market Streets to overtake City Hall atop the Philly skyline.

5. NO OTHER CITY HAS A LARGER MUNICIPAL BUILDING.

With 14.5 acres of floor space, almost 700 rooms, and offices and chambers for the city’s executive, judicial, and legislative branches, Philadelphia City Hall is the biggest municipal building in America. It is taller and has more rooms than the U.S. Capitol Building, though it has a smaller total floor space than the Capitol’s 16.5 acres.

6. IT'S THE WORLD'S TALLEST MASONRY STRUCTURE.

Constructed of brick, marble, and granite, with no steel or iron framing, City Hall is the tallest masonry building in the world and one of the largest overall. More than 88 million bricks were used in the building’s construction, and the walls of the tower are up to 22 feet thick near its base.

7. ITS ARCHITECTURAL STYLE QUICKLY FELL OUT OF FAVOR.

Influenced by Paris’s Tuileries Palace and the New Louvre Palace, McArthur, who trained under U.S. Capitol architect Thomas U. Walter, designed City Hall in a style known as French Second Empire. Developed during the latter part of the 19th century, the style—also known as Napoleon III or Second Empire Baroque style—features a large, freestanding structure, a high mansard roof, and lots of classical detail. But when the building opened in 1901, critics derided its opulent style and chastised its archaic nature for decades.

8. A SCOTTISH IMMIGRANT SCULPTED THE FAMOUS PENN STATUE.

Alexander Milne Calder arrived in America in 1868 and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He spent 20 years working on sculptures for City Hall, but the 37-foot, 27-ton statue of William Penn literally stands above the rest. Details include a copy of the Charter of Pennsylvania, a tree stump, decorative lace cuffs and buttons, and Penn’s hand extended to offer a blessing.

9. CALDER AND HIS SON CREATED THE MOST “ORNAMENTED” BUILDING IN AMERICA.

Along with the Penn statue, more than 250 sculptures were created by Calder and his son, Alexander Stirling Calder, for City Hall. Nine of the statues were cast in bronze, while most were started in clay, cast in plaster, and finished in marble. There are nods to naturalism and animals, Swedish settlers, mythological creatures, Native Americans, a group of cats chasing some mice, and four eagles with 15-foot wingspans near the top of the tower.

10. DETRACTORS WANTED TO DESTROY THE BUILDING IN THE 1950S.

When it was only half finished, a newspaper called City Hall “the biggest and ugliest building in America.” Second Empire architecture was already out-of-date upon the building’s opening, and by the 1950s, whispers had turned to shouts: Plans were drawn up that would have eliminated City Hall (but saved the tower and statue of Penn). But the cost to do so—around $25 million—was too great, as were the logistics of tearing apart such a well-built masonry structure and removing the millions and millions of bricks and tons of stone. The building remained, and opinions began to sway with the restoration of Conversation Hall in 1982.

11. IT'S ONE OF AMERICA'S MOST HONORED ARCHITECTURAL STRUCTURES.

In 2007, the American Institute of Architects conducted a poll [PDF] to determine the 150 favorite pieces of American architecture, and at number 21 was Philadelphia City Hall. The building is a National Historic Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976; it was also cited as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 2006.

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Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images
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architecture
Vantablack Pavilion at the Winter Olympics Mimics the Darkness of Space
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images

British company Surrey NanoSystems disrupted the color spectrum when it debuted Vantablack: the darkest artificial substance ever made. The material is dark enough to absorb virtually all light waves, making 3D objects look like endless black voids. It was originally designed for technology, but artists and designers have embraced the unique shade. Now, Dezeen reports that British architect Asif Khan has brought Vantablack to the Winter Olympics.

His temporary pavilion at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea has been dubbed the darkest building on Earth. The 33-foot-tall structure has been coated with Vantablack VBx2, a version of Vantablack pigment that comes in a spray can.

The building’s sides curve inward like shadowboxes. To break up the all-consuming blackness, Khan outfitted the walls with rods. White lights at the ends of the sticks create the effect of stars scattered across an endless night sky.

Child next to wall painted to look like the night sky.
Luke Hayes, Asif Khan/Getty Images

Khan told Dezeen that the piece is meant to give “the impression of a window cut into space.” He was only able to realize this vision after contacting the scientists behind Vantablack. He told them he wanted to use the color to coat a building, something the pigment wasn’t designed for originally. Sculptor Anish Kapoor securing exclusive rights to artistic use of the color in 2016 further complicated his plans. The solution was the sprayable version: Vantablack VBx2 is structurally (and therefore legally) different from the original pigment and better suited for large-scale projects.

The pavilion was commissioned by Hyundai to promote their hydrogen fuel cell technology. The space-themed exterior is a nod to the hydrogen in stars. Inside, a white room filled with sprinklers is meant to represent the hydrogen found in water.

The area will be open to visitors during the Winter Olympics, which kick off in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Friday, February 9.

[h/t Dezeen]

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Shari Austrian
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Design
You Can Order a Stunningly Detailed LEGO Replica of Your House on Etsy
Shari Austrian
Shari Austrian

LEGO blocks can be used to construct fictional starships and works of abstract art, but there's something comforting in replicating what's familiar to you. That's the concept behind Little Brick Lane, an Etsy shop that promises to custom-build detailed LEGO models of real homes.

Designer Shari Austrian tells Apartment Therapy that the idea came to her when her family was building their real-life house. Her twin boys had recently gotten her interested in LEGO, so she decided to construct a scaled-down, blocky replica to match their new home. She enjoyed the project enough to launch a business around LEGO architecture on Etsy at the end of 2017.

Austrian bases her designs off interior and exterior photos of each house, and if they're available, architectural plans. Over eight to 10 weeks, she constructs the model using LEGO pieces she orders to match the building design perfectly, recreating both the inside and outside of the house in the utmost detail.

To request a custom LEGO abode of your own, you can reach out to Austrian through her Etsy shop, but warning: It won't come cheap. A full model will cost you at least $2500 (the exact price is based on the square footage of your home). That price covers the cost of the materials Austrian invests in each house, which can add up quick. "The average LEGO piece costs approximately 10 cents," she tells Mental Floss, and her models are made up of tens of thousands of pieces. But if you're looking for something slightly cheaper, she also offers exterior-only models for $1500 and up.

For your money, you can be confident that Austrian won't skimp on any details. As you can see in the images below, every feature of your house—from the appliances in your kitchen to the flowers in your yard—will be immortalized in carefully chosen plastic bricks.

A bedroom made of LEGO

A kitchen model made of LEGO

The exterior of a house made of LEGO

[h/t Apartment Therapy]

All images courtesy of Shari Austrian.

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