Adaptive reuse of the historic Delaware Power Station

This riverfront behemoth was built by the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) in 1921. Then named the Delaware Power Station, the 500,000 sq. ft. building is better described as a giant machine enrobed in neoclassical detailing. It was built to convey stolidity, permanence, and safety to reassure the public about electric power. It harnessed the Delaware River to transform coal into coal dust, coal dust into combustion and combustion into power. Vacant and vandalized, it was the perfect opportunity for adaptive reuse fostering revitalization of the waterfront.

Strada provided developer Lubert-Adler Real Estate Funds with a grand transformation, from an uninhabitable machine into a Philadelphia riverfront icon. Demolition began with removing equipment, piping, machines, catwalks and boilers. The concrete façade was extensively restored, and new windows and curtainwalls were carefully detailed to match the original profiles of the existing building. The emptied boiler house was fitted with floors where there had previously open space for multi-story boilers, and was capped with a two-story addition that was carefully designed to comply with historic tax credit program requirements for site lines.

The full site is within a Keystone Opportunity Zone and received historic tax credits, which were essential for the massive challenge of renovating the Battery for modern use. What were once coal bins and boiler houses have been converted into 173 apartments and 49,000 sq. ft. of leasable office space. A 25,000 sq. ft. wedding venue and 45 unit hotel, created for one of Philadelphia’s premiere events experts Cescaphe, has taken up impressive residence in the former switch house.

These ambitious adaptations have maintained the grandeur of the original architecture. Laser scanning provided supported pinpoint accuracy for location of new floors with mullions in historically sympathetic replacement windows. The existing skylights were replaced, and a new roof installed. A large steel cistern remains, a reminder of the history of the space from within. An abandoned fragment inside the building, it was carefully moved and placed in the front lobby. Impressive columns that once flanked the conveyor system maintain their striking presence over a roof deck and gymnasium.

The Battery interiors celebrate the origins of the building as inspiration for the new design. Original board formed concrete walls are left exposed and washed with new lighting. At one point, the building was taken over by nature, even a tree growing through the space. As a reminder, a large chandelier of preserved plants was arranged and centered in the café space. The café also holds a solid wood antique bar .. The corridor walls are finished in a wood that resembles shou sugi ban, a charred wood process, as a reminder of the coal-firing the power plant once contained. Blackened brass portals serve as wayfinding along the corridor, but also as a way to breathe refinement and newness into the heavy walls. The interiors aim to remind us that everything that is old can be made new again.

Concerts and other events will occur on the water, connecting Pier 61 to Philadelphia architect Louis Kahn’s floating stage, Point Counterpoint II.

Design for the Turbine Hall and river trail connectivity are on the horizon.