Located near the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, the new Hamilton Court Amenities Building in Philadelphia serves student residents of the 105-unit Hamilton Court. It sits within the 14,765-square-foot central horseshoe-shaped courtyard, surrounded on three sides by the Hamilton Court apartment complex. The amenities building features ground-floor retail space, second-floor activities including a gym, pool, hot tub and two terraces, as well as a third-floor sunning terrace.
An architectural distinctive box provides a modern contrast to surrounding apartment complex
Sergio Coscia, AIA, principal at Philadelphia-based Coscia Moos Architecture (CMA), says the owner, Philadelphia-based Post Brothers, wanted something that was unique and would draw attention from potential student tenants. With a number of new private student housing projects in the university area, Coscia says, “Our design goal was to give them something unique that not only brought attention to the project but by virtue of its design, enhances the existing architecture.”
Venetian Style Reflections
Opened in Fall 2018, the 9,200-square-foot, glass-and-metal amenities building stands in modern contrast to the surrounding 1901-built Hamilton Court apartment complex. Philadelphia architects Samuel D. Milligan and Frederick Webber designed the 44,294-square-foot, seven building complex as a hotel and residences under the idea of creating villages connected to a larger street system.
“From the beginning, I knew that the glass curtainwall would reflect the Venetian details in the existing building and that you could get some interesting effects and reflections as you walk between the two buildings,” Coscia explains. “The glass, in fact, allows you to feel like the Venetian limestone details are on both sides of you as you walk past the building. The modern design, in my opinion, complements the Venetian design without trying to mimic it. I feel that we are being respectful while having our own identity.”
Clad in a mixture of curtainwall and brick, the amenities building has a faceted, perforated aluminum skin that wraps the second floor. The aluminum skin is supported by a galvanized subframe and is tied back from the primary steel structure located between the curtainwall supports.
When designing the building, Coscia says he really wanted something that was sculptural in form, with a unique and interesting massing shaped by the character of the courtyard site. “The building is actually very contextual and responds to its urban locale in a unique way,” he says. “The metal veil allowed us to be sculptural while allowing the glass portion to remain relatively simple.”
The brick masonry grounds the building in the rear, while the glass and metal provide a lighter, more playful front face to the building. “The architecture developed from an initial request for a glass box to a geometric abstraction combining glass and a veil-like metal skin,” Coscia explains. “The result offers transparency, privacy and a contrasting design language that seeks to engage with not only residents of Hamilton Court but also with those in the surrounding neighborhood.”
The aluminum veil is made up of more than 400 perforated panels from Hendrick Architectural, Carbondale, Pa., and Coscia says each one is customized to its location. Chosen for being lightweight, rust resistant and its ability to be painted, Coscia says they were careful to specify the opening sizes and arrangement of the aluminum panels so that enough light would enter the gym space, while providing adequate sunshading on the sunnier sides and keeping the views to the exterior.
The perforated metal panels have an opening percentage of 18 percent, which also minimizes the amount of snow that can accumulate and freeze on the flat panels. Coscia says this opening allows the snow to melt while still allowing enough light through and views to the outside.
There are several layers of steel that support the aluminum veil, including a primary wide-flange steel structure as the principal support structure.“We attached vertical steel tubes every 5 feet to the primary steel,” Coscia explains. “These tubes provide the primary support for the veil. The glass curtainwall sits between each tube and the tubes are covered with insulation and an aluminum brake metal piece to match the curtainwall cover.”
Two horizontal arms project out from each tube, and a galvanized steel truss assembly ties together all of the horizontal arms, forming the basic folded shapes of the structure. Vertical hat channels were attached to the face of the trusses at 12 inches on-center, with the perforated aluminum veil panels screwed to the hat channels along the edges.
The use of building information modeling (BIM) was essential to understand the complexities of the building and site, while maximizing the reflection and interplay of light and shadow between the glass and steel. Since the amenities building is a modern addition to a historic building, the design and construction teams worked closely to ensure the design was executed correctly to not disturb the existing structure, with efficient fabrication and phased construction.
The CMA team provided detailed BIM models to the structural steel fabricator, Tamburri Associates, Cinnaminson, N.J., to accurately construct the complex geometry of the exterior veil and supporting structure. “Through a collaborative design effort and after extensive value engineering, we managed to keep the integrity of the design while cutting several million dollars from construction costs,” Coscia explains.
“The building’s footprint was carefully placed to maximize the footprint of the new structure and meet minimum required separation while fitting comfortably within the courtyard and creating intimate and individualized entryways to the seven residential buildings.”
In addition to the BIM model provided to the fabricator, Coscia says the erector added additional information to the model as each layer of steel was installed and surveyed.
The Hamilton Court Amenities Building was honored with an AIA Philadelphia Design Award of Merit as an unbuilt project in 2016. Josh Guelbart, asset manager at Post Brothers, says his company made an intentional decision to let dramatic architecture be one of the amenities of the new building versus a run-of-the-mill, stamped-out gym.
“The fitness center and pool deck CMA created not only allow for state-of-the-art spaces with the latest fixtures and equipment, but they do so in a space that is truly one-of-a-kind and in a class by itself,” he says. “Residents and prospects alike have been blown away, and we couldn’t be happier.”