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Bulletin Building in Philadelphia
Bulletin Building
Todd Mason - © Halkin Mason Photography

Former Newspaper Headquarters Finds New Life as Lab Space

The Bulletin Building spurs research and innovation in Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Yards

MaryBeth DiDonna

The Bulletin Building in Philadelphia, once home to a bustling newspaper office, has seen many changes in its over 60 years of existence. The project team for its recent renovation was challenged to transform this facility into a modern, innovative lab space that can accommodate future advancements in science and technology, while still preserving the building’s rich history—as well as turning it into an anchor for a mixed-use development in one of America’s largest cities. 

The Bulletin Building in Philadelphia is a renovated newspaper headquarters
The Bulletin Building in Philadelphia, once a newspaper headquarters, has found new life as lab space.
Todd Mason - © Halkin Mason Photography

Completed in Fall 2020, this 265,000 sq. ft. facility was originally the headquarters for the Evening Bulletin, the largest circulation afternoon newspaper in the country at the time—the original structure was built in 1955. The building was converted to Class B office space and academic space for Drexel University in the 1990s. The most recent renovation re-establishes the building as Class A life science lab space, with retail at the ground level and academic space for Drexel below grade. 

KieranTimberlake was the architect on this project. Consultants were Thornton Tomasetti, which served as structural engineer and façade engineer; Keast & Hood was the structural engineer for the construction phase; db | HMS served as MEP engineer; and Tillotson was the lighting designer. Additionally, the landscape architect for Drexel Square was West 8 Landscape Design, and the construction manager was Hunter Roberts. 

Lab Manager spoke to Richard Maimon, partner with KieranTimberlake, about this renovation project. 

Q: What was the need for this facility? Can you give an overall timeline from the original conception to the expected opening?  

A: The project focused on a dramatic and newly re-envisioned east façade that greatly increased natural light and views. It also transformed the image of the building as a place of innovation and research that is respectful of its legacy. The building, along with the adjacent Drexel Square landscape (formerly a surface parking lot) forms the first phase of the Schuylkill Yards innovation district, developed by Brandywine Realty Trust with Drexel University.

The inception of design work was in spring 2018; construction was complete in late 2020. 

Q: What kinds of sustainability initiatives have been included in the design plan? 

A: Because the building had a large floorplate, we replaced the solid walls of the original building with transparent façades that fill the generous loft spaces with natural light and offer views of the landmark 30th Street Station across the park and Philadelphia’s Center City skyline beyond. While substantially increased transparency was required for Class A workspace, our goal was to avoid adding energy load to the building. This was accomplished by the use of high-performance glazing—coupled with shading provided by an outboard aluminum frame—and increased insulation, particularly at the roof. A frit pattern was developed for the glazing to limit heat gain and glare, while also serving to make the glass visible to birds in order to limit bird strikes. The frit offered an opportunity to honor the building's history; our team created a custom pattern of typefaces previously used by the Bulletin newspaper. This artful “cascade” of letters and numbers shield the building from sun and make the glass visible to birds, while maintaining views and daylight. 

Q: Is there anything particularly unique or groundbreaking about your facility or the design plan? 

A: As the former headquarters for the largest afternoon daily newspaper in the country, the 1955 George Howe-designed Bulletin Building was state-of-the-art for its time. Now with a façade intervention that opens the interiors of this significant building to daylight and views, the Bulletin Building anchors the Schuylkill Yards development in Philadelphia's University City and reestablishes the building as a strong presence at a major crossroads. 

The original design's simple but powerful volume—set atop slender columns with a smooth masonry skin and an expansive eastern façade—was defined by monochromatic glazed brick, curved corners, deep-set ribbon windows, asymmetrical entries, a long exterior loggia, stainless steel detailing, and assertive signage. The introduction of new windows on the east façade in the 1990s greatly diminished the building's monumentality. The reimagined structure restores Howe's north, west, and south façades, while reinterpreting the prominent east façade. It also opens the building's large floor plates to light and views through high-performance glazing and reasserts the monumentality of the original structure through a large-scale aluminum frame. The prominent graphics of Howe’s design return with stainless steel rooftop signage that announces Schuylkill Yards as a vibrant new neighborhood. 

Q: What sorts of challenges did you encounter during the design/build process, and how did you overcome them?  

A: Two challenges come to mind:

  1. While not a designated landmark, the building is a significant work by an important architect in a highly visible location in Philadelphia. A key success of the project was the balance of preservation and restoration with new interventions. The original fabric of the building, including glazed brick and stainless-steel detailing, was renewed, while the new work drew inspiration from the original in terms of proportion and materiality. The result is an architectural composition that draws the work of 1955 and 2020 into a conversation, each enriching the other. This design approach was guided by periodic meetings with a team of historic preservation advocates organized by the developer. 
  2. Achieving performance, quality, aesthetic, and budget objectives for the new east façade was essential to the success of the project. This entailed a highly collaborative team including owner, architect, construction manager, and careful selection of the envelope contractor and their team, which included fabricators of curtainwall, glazing, metal fabrications, and metal finishing. A design-assist process was undertaken, followed by a full-size mockup installed adjacent to the site to verify selections, detailing, and installation. 

Q: How did you work together with other members of the project team to collaborate on this building? Can you talk about your communication strategies and any compromises that needed to be reached with lab/facility managers in order to advance the project?  

A: At the inception of our design work, Spark Therapeutics (the tenant) had already occupied floor two with an interior renovation by another design team. Early in our design process, this single tenant leased floors three and four, continuing the interior work with its separate design team. The KieranTimberlake team coordinated frequently with the lab team relative to overall building design issues and building systems, with a focus on façade design and installation. Demolition of the existing envelope and installation of the new glazing took place during full occupation of floor two. This required close planning and cooperation with substantial protection and isolation achieved by temporary walls, which were insulated and glazed, in order to retain daylight during construction. 

Q: If a similar facility or program were to look at your lab facilities for inspiration, what do you think they will take away as an example of what they should also implement in their own lab? 

A: This project is a great example of a significant existing building transformed for a use that was unimaginable at the time of its original conception. The bones of the building—deep floor plates, generous floor-to-floor heights and column spacing—provided the essential elements for commercial lab space. Rather than being hampered by the building’s history and architectural legacy, the owner and design team sought a way to combine new interventions with preservation and renewal to create a new civic landmark and set the path for design excellence and sustainable development in the nascent Schuylkill Yards district.