08-02-22 | Feature

Bringing the 1950s into the 21st Century

ThinkGreen LLC, was tasked with upgrading the two-acre pool area adjacent to the high-rise apartments.

Amenities rare elsewhere in the city, such as car parks and swimming pools, were offered to new residents. After half a century, the residential complex had fallen into disrepair and consequently lacked cohesive social spaces and urban connectivity. ThinkGreen LLC was brought on to design the new pool center and surrounding landscape situated on approximately 2 acres adjacent to the high-rise apartments. The existing pool area was transformed into a refined and sophisticated space planned to provide the residents a resort-like atmosphere. Named the Sora Pool Club, it now includes a lap pool, an infinity edge lounge pool with partially immersed lounge seating, and a family-friendly wading pool. Hot tubs, outdoor kitchen spaces, cabanas, a variety of unique spaces for lounging, and lush vegetation were also incorporated into the design. The new pool complex is sympathetic to the original 1950s design, while incorporating amenities suitable for the 21st century lifestyle.
Built in 1950, Presidential City echoed Le Corbusier's "Towers in the Park" conception of the modern city (PHOTO CREDIT: POST BROTHERS).
Ipe wood pavers from Bison Innovative Products were specified for some of the walkways around the pool area. Trees planted included serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), red maple (Acre rubrum), river birch (Betula nigra), hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis,) Sioux crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia x 'Natchez'), sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), Otto Luyken cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus 'Otto Luyken') and Schipka cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus 'Schipkaensis'). The ground cover in this planter is 'Ice Dance' sedge (Carex 'Ice Dance'). PHOTO CREDIT: POST BROTHERS
Carlton Pools was an integral partner in the project. Nighttime lighting specified by lighting consultants The Lighting Practice illuminates the space for late-night use.
Built with cypress, the wooden trellis over the Entry Plaza mirrors the pergolas throughout the Pool Club.
The outdoor kitchen features grills, ranges, prep space, and cold storage that were specified by a third party supplier.
Steps to the lounge constructed of poured-in-place concrete from Architectural Concrete Design were intended to "float" above the surface of the reflecting pool. On either side of the pool is Lily 'Big Blue' turf (Liriope muscari). The wall in the background is faced with travertine.
Surface runoff is directed toward vegetated planters made of poured-in-place concrete veneered and capped with travertine. There underdrains collect stormwater. The stair way is also constructed of poured-in-place concrete. PHOTO CREDIT: POST BROTHERS
Influenced by Southeast Asian resorts, the activity areas surrounding the pools are terraced so views of the water are maintained across the club. The grassy slopes around the area shield the space from adjacent driveways.

Built in 1950, Presidential City echoes the "Towers in the Park" conception of the modern city. But after half a century, this residential complex had fallen into disrepair.

As part of the strategy to give a new lease on life to Presidential City, the landscape architecture company, ThinkGreen LLC, was tasked with upgrading the two-acre pool area adjacent to the high-rise apartments. Known as the Sora Pool Club, ThinkGreen LLC designed focused on creating a respite from the stresses of modern life, with spaces for both individual relaxation and dynamic social interaction. Integral to the design was also an emphasis on sustainability.

Presidential City was the first skyrise residential complex in Philadelphia. The project was built by legendary American builder John McShain, known as "The Man Who Built Washington" for his extensive construction work in the nation's capital, including the Jefferson Memorial, White House reconstruction, and the Pentagon.

McShain, himself a resident of Philadelphia's dense Center City, built Presidential City on the Schuylkill River at the front end of a phenomenon that would expand across U.S. cities in the coming decades.

Modernist architect Le Corbusier first conceived of iconic cruciform high-rises surrounded by open greenspace in his Plan Voisin, a concept for modernizing the antiquated streets of Paris. Though his ideas were initially rejected, the "Towers in the Park" became a model for new urban multifamily housing in the mid-to-late twentieth century.

Le Corbusier's vision sought to free urban streets of congested structures, smog-filled air, and inescapable gray hardscapes. By concentrating buildings into towers pulled back from the street, pedestrians could enjoy expansive grassy lawns and the shade of trees as they moved through the city.

Presidential City, like many developments that succeeded it, echoes Le Corbusier's original plan.

The towers rise high enough to offer views of both downtown Philadelphia and the preserved green spaces of Fairmount Park, while the open space at their base provide room for swimming pools, shade trees, car parks, and other desirable amenities not afforded to the residents of more crowded Philadelphia neighborhoods in the 1950s.

Like many other "Towers in the Park," the success of the project did not last. Underutilized open spaces led to increasing social isolation for residents whose living spaces were disconnected from the public sphere of urban life.

After a few decades, the Presidential City apartments had fallen into disrepair and the pool facilities were all but abandoned. The complex was bought for redevelopment amid the rising pressure for urban living space.

The Revitalization Effort
When ThinkGreen was brought on to upgrade the pool and surrounding landscape, it quickly became clear
that a new approach was needed to create social and leisure spaces for the 21st century. The new Sora Pool Club is programmed for a wide array of activities to encourage socialization.

The original swimming pool and hot tub were replaced with a series of pools to meet the needs of different users: a lap pool for more rigorous exercise; a play pool for children and teens with seating around the edges for parent supervision; a lounge pool with a sunken terrace for a more relaxed experience in the water; and a series of hot tubs off to the side for individual or small group use.

Lounging, napping, and reading spaces are provided in the room-like cabana bed spaces, where the designers used dense plantings to create a lush sense of privacy without interrupting views out.

Lawn spaces are integrated into the overall plan for both yoga and sunbathing. More active social activities are encouraged in the fire pit lounge and bocce courts.
The multiple outdoor kitchens and shared dining terrace can accommodate both, big get-together cookouts and more intimate dinners for couples or friends.

The fitness center overlooks the calming landscape of the pools, with a children's playground and multisport courts beyond. The design of the Pool Club further emphasizes the feeling of separation between the stresses of daily life and the relaxing environment within.

Design Elements
Inspired by resorts of Southeast Asia and intended to enhance the sense of escape from East Coast U.S. city life, the activity areas surrounding the pools are terraced so views of the water are maintained across the club.

Shallow reflecting pools surround the lounge spaces, with monolithic slabs that seem to float just above the water's surface. Infinity edges around the pools enhance the beauty of the space while the sound of falling water contributes to a sense of tranquility. Wood flooring and pergolas give warmth to the overall space, while travertine-faced walls create tactile anchors at the edges.

Stormwater drainage is integrated with the planters and lawn spaces throughout the Pool Club, where underdrains convey the water to subsurface drainage below the basketball court and parking area. This water is then slow-released back into the watershed of the nearby Schuylkill River. By slowing down the water that falls on the pool decks, parking lots, and playing courts, the site significantly reduces peak stormwater flows and contributes to a healthier watershed.

The Takeaway
The cumulative experience is one of beauty and relaxation, in a space that offers privacy, recreation, and social activation. Where the original "Towers in the Park" complexes declined in increasing social isolation, the Presidential City renovation seeks to reverse those problems through beautiful, well-designed, and well-programmed outdoor spaces.

Team List
Property Owner: Post Brothers
Landscape Architect: ThinkGreen LLC
Architect: Stuart Rosenberg Architects
IPE Pavers: Bison Innovative Products
Concrete: Architectural Concrete Design
Plants: Clearview Nursery
Sod: Johnson Farms Nursery
Soils: Laurel Valley Soils
Pool: Carlton Pools


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