Pier 55: South Philadelphia Community Center


Pier 55: South Philadelphia Community Center


Caleb Freeze & Michelle Kleva
Marywood University


Miguel Calvo Salve & Russell B. Roberts
Marywood University



This winning project brings an interesting and dynamic perspective to South Philadelphia, with a Community Center on a pier over the Delaware River. The building integrates systems, wetlands and architecture into one cohesive language that makes sense in terms of performance. The students created a superb user experience and place to explore.


Pier 55 | S. Philadelphia Community Center is situated on a pier along the Delaware River Trail in the Pennsport neighborhood of Philadelphia. This Community Center intends to evoke common attitudes and interests generating a locus for a flourishing community through support, creativity, and activity. In a context where social values and emphasis on stability are undermined, the architecture focuses on human and environmental function and prosperity through its program(s) and design features. This 30,930-square foot Center offers two main classifications of program- Craft & Activity facilities and Wellness & Care facilities. The Craft & Activity facilities respond to the community’s interests at a public level with art and recreation spaces, while the Wellness & Care facilities support the needs of community members on a more individual level with holistic health and youth-care spaces. With a spectrum of public and private programs, all the spaces offered on Pier 55 are positioned along and ultimately connected by a main circulatory spine. Being one of the main architectural features, the spine operates as an extension of the existing Delaware River Trail that sustains circulation and structure, as well as passive and active building systems. Overall, the objective of this project is to link the natural and social environments of the site, while supporting the neighboring communities through programming. 

Measure 1: Design for Integration
Pier 55 is a project that establishes connectivity among the community as well as connectivity to the natural environment. Fusion of user, environment, and building systems allow for seamless integration. This is accomplished through prioritizing environmental issues such as climate
change, ecosystem preservation and development. For example, to be prepared for the rising of sea levels or flooding, the building is raised off the existing pier. Raising programmatic spaces and circulation also assists in immediate ecosystem preservation while allowing for wetland construction zones and high-performance landscapes for optimal water irrigation. Additionally, all passive and active building systems are integrated with the structural design of the building.

Measure 2: Design for Community
Located in South Philadelphia in the
Pennsport neighborhood, this Community Center intends to facilitate connectivity through support, creativity, and activity in a context where social values and stability are currently undermined. The site is directly perpendicular to route 95, a major highway, allowing access to the farthest extents of the city. The public transit system is readily available for users, creating many options for direct access to our site from many community scales. Along the pier itself, lies the Delaware River Trail, promoting walkability and bike-ability. A small, yet influential, design feature implemented within this center are bike share stations on the west and east ends of the pier. Overall, through a spectrum of program amenities and environmental ties, Pier 55 will generate a locus for a flourishing community.

Measure 3: Design for Ecology
Site development takes the immediate ecosystems into close consideration. Proper integration with building and landscape design brings users to understand and experience the natural habitats the site has to offer. The
building's main circulatory spine connects to an exterior elevated path that connects users to the aquatic habitats surrounding the pier while preserving them as well. The constructed lagoon system at the end of the pier assists in landscape irrigation during the warmer seasons, and during cold seasons doubles as an ice skating rink for a recreational attraction. On the northern side of the pier visitors will find an elevated pathway and constructed wetlands for aquatic habitat preservation as well as natural water filtration systems. Overall, the design works to support and improve the future of this ecological context and creates a synthesis of environmental systems to contribute to a higher environmental quality.

Measure 4: Design for Water
All rainwater is collected and reused through roof catchment strategies
using properly angled roof slopes for optimal retention of run-off. This process is applied along The “Wall” of the building's spine, and collected water is sent down The Wall to on-site cisterns for storage. The collected rainfall, which is estimated to reach up to 2,632 gallons per day, services a grey water system and provides irrigation water for immediate green-scapes. In addition to these passive design features, any excess water that naturally occurs in the lagoon, will also be filtered into and stored in cisterns.

Measure 5: Design for Economy
Sustainable strategies are implemented throughout the building to positively impact the environment
and contribute to the economic value of the project. Thermally activated surfaces and spaces are designed to address thermal comfort of inhabitants without needing active systems. Natural ventilation is implemented through designed operable façade systems based on spatial location and programmatic characteristics. On the south elevation, operable facades for natural ventilation are paired with shading devices for daylight regulation. Photovoltaic energy is used to power all operable facades, shading devices and lighting for optimal comfort, cost efficiency, and positive environmental impact.

Measure 6: Design for Energy
Through photovoltaic energy, water retention, a geothermal energy system, operable shading devices and facades, this building will produce clean energy, store it, and regulate it. Strategic zoning of programs based on sun orientation, time of use, and access helps better regulate energy consumption. More to that point,
creating a main circulation spine as an organizing and structuring tool, and equipping it with active and passive building systems helps distribute energy use throughout the building.

Measure 7: Design for Wellness
This project, as understood through our program, focuses on the wellness of its occupants as well as the greater community of Philadelphia. Wellness is addressed by what the building has to offer the community and how the architecture itself influences the health of its occupants. This city node
will be a place in which people can gather to better their individual growth and health through activity or assisted care. In addition to the program amenities, design strategies such as optimal southern exposure for daylighting, operable shading devices for comfort, natural ventilation inner-connected with circulation to guide users to the natural context, while healthy building materials work together to provide a high-quality environment. Overall, 74% of the project provides views to the exterior, organized around a 240-foot sky-lit corridor, while offering a 72% open space ratio to guarantee wellness.

Measure 8: Design for Resources
This project emphasizes minimizing the impact that construction has on the current habitat as well as its long-term effect on the natural environment. In order to reduce
material use, the building has a limited material palette that responds to its environment and ultimately the spaces it creates. The list of materials used in the design include concrete, slate, wood, and glass. A material constraint plan has been established that stipulates that all materials must have been or have the potential of being repurposed, and must be acquired within a 200-mile radius from the site to reduce its embodied energy. More specifically, 2,496 lbs. of reclaimed lumber will be used for structural elements, decking, interior finishes and shading devices, intending to reduce the projects anticipated carbon footprint.

Measure 9: Design for Change
In order to allow for optimal flexibility over time, most of the spaces within the building are designed to have multi-purpose functions. The distribution of the spaces along a main circulation spine provides a clear, concise program layout, which allows for adaptive reuse potential. The design uses materials that accommodate weathering and aging. Overall, the substantial design is adequately structured to support itself over a deteriorating pier and adapt to the forces that our changing climate may exert on its dynamic riverfront environment. The structural design anticipates natural growth, rising waters, weathering and aging.

Measure 10: Design for Discovery
Pier 55 will be transformed from a deteriorating pier along the Delaware River to a community hub for interaction, activity, and environmental connectivity. The project stimulates life
along the Delaware River Trail, while positively influencing ecological development. The direct micro-habitat around the site (environmentally and socially) is designed to allow it to prosper, and will both benefit and educate its users.