An Architect’s Vision for Philadelphia
The influence of architect Paul Philippe Cret endures more than 100 years after he arrived in Philadelphia to teach at Penn.
Considered one of the preeminent architects of the first half of the 20th century, Cret designed many iconic structures across the nation, including the memorial arch at Valley Forge, the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, and the Federal Reserve Board building in Washington, D.C.
An advocate for improving Philadelphia’s physical structure, Cret was involved in designing Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the early 1900s.
Bill Whitaker, collections manager of Penn’s Architectural Archives, which holds a collection of Cret’s student and professional work, says the architect’s vision for the city led to the relatively recent creation of green space along the Parkway as well as walkways on the banks of the Schuylkill River.
“What’s been built bears no resemblance to what he was proposing,” says Whitaker. “But it’s part of this forethought that he and others had at the time about what the potential of this city could be.”
A native of Lyons, France, Cret was recruited to teach architectural design at Penn in 1903. At the age of 27, he was already an accomplished, internationally known architect.
Cret made a significant impact as a professor, and with his ongoing architectural design work.
Many of his Penn students became prominent architects, including Louis Kahn, Cret’s student in the early 1920s.
“Throughout Kahn’s career, he holds Cret up as one of his most significant influences,” says Whitaker. “He talks about how Cret’s teaching opened up his view of architecture and the way that you design and think about architecture in an artistic way.”
On Penn’s campus, Cret designed a wing of the Chemistry Building and was the architect for the Moore Building renovations in 1926.
Cret was the 1938 winner of the American Institute of Architects’ gold medal—the highest honor bestowed in the profession in the United States.
Text by Jeanne Leong
Video by Rebecca Elias Abboud