Knowledge People Wonder

Reflections on Philadelphia

Kristine Dorn



Oh, Philadelphia. The land of Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell, and many a cheesesteak.

Last week, we traveled to the historical city as a studio, seeking architectural inspiration. For many, it was their first time in the city of Brotherly (and now, Sisterly) love. For others, it was a return to a vibrant city with a rich inventory of noteworthy structures. The journey’s theme revolved around “Critical Practice,” a concept our studio is working to understand and embody, as we explored the city and its people. The contrast of the old and new interlaced and co-existing side-by-side, both adding character and depth to a well-established city, was a metaphor for the recent changes in our firm. Our staff not only experienced historic City Hall but also walked among modern additions by KieranTimberlake and BCJ within the architectural fabric of the city.

While everyone was given the freedom to explore the city on their own, we made sure to equip our staff with the info they needed to make the most of their excursions. Our “Phield Guide to Philly” provided a map, sites worth seeing, a multitude of transportation methods as well as the proper way to order a cheesesteak so one wasn’t moved to the back of the line (one whiz with, please). We asked staff to upload their photos to Google Photos as they explored the city, and tag all their social media posts with #BVHGoestoPhilly. As we flip through the photos, we are reminded of the historic structures within the Naval Yard, the feel of a different campus while milling around the University of Pennsylvania, and the inspiration found by the quiet reflecting pool adjacent to the Barnes Foundation. But, besides the photos of narrow streets lined with quaint row houses and detail shots of intricate stone carvings that adorn a myriad of buildings, there are just as many group selfies. From those images, one can sense the comradery built as staff were determining if a paper map is better than Google Maps, and the sampling of as many cheesesteaks as possible to come up with BVH’s favorite establishment (Jim’s won, by the way).

As we waited for our Uber one evening, an intern asked why we did this trip and why they, as part-time staff, were invited to be part of the journey. The answer is simple: relationships. We’re committed to our people and feel the success of the trip is achieved by the strengthening of the bonds between staff. Yes, it’s an expense, both financially and logistically, to send 50 people to the East Coast. But we’ve found this investment pays dividends back to the studio as staff better understand each other, allowing each to work better together in teams as they dive into projects. As we continue to unify our team, these adventures break down the geographic boundaries sometimes felt by the locations of our two studios. It reminds us that we have similar interests, passions and professional goals in the field of architecture. It allows us to better define and understand the Critical Practice we are moving toward and create our own map of how to reach that destination. Above all, it helps us identify our WHY, our purpose as both a firm and the individuals within it, to make our practice stronger and our decisions more intentional.