OPEN WORK | Option Studio

Option Studio: OPEN WORK

Enrique Walker 

Fall 2019

The ISI Building, designed in 1979 as a commercial office space by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steve Izenour, is an archetypal “decorated shed”. The architects focused their design energies on the street-facing graphic facade of the building, while the building sides and the interior were kept as banal, ugly, and ordinary as possible. Venturi and Scott Brown intended this approach to produce an architecture amenable to future change: the building could be called - after Umberto Eco’s 1962 essay of the same name - an ‘open work’.

Our design doubles the square footage of the original building in order to test the actual capacity of an ‘open work’ to change. This doubling is made more complicated by the fact that Drexel University purchased and renovated the building in 2010 to house their architecture and design school.

Our proposal sandwiches the original 4 story square building between a new monumental billboard and a new construction 7 story rectangular building. The program of the architecture school is inherited from Drexel, and is flowed through by a vast new civic program, including an elementary school, daycare, library, cultural hall, gallery, artist studios, food court, garden center, and auditorium. This civic program is accessed by a continuous 15’ wide ramp that circulates in front of the original ISI facade and around a vast internal void carved out of the back of the original ISI structure. The architecture school program is interspersed between civic activities, charged by the juxtaposition of old and new building fragments, and the inverted surfaces of the original ISI’s facades. The monumental new billboard frames the original graphic facade of the ISI with a radical wash of indeterminate color - proposing a civic surface that activates the building’s new take on openness.