Exploring Modernism in Philadelphia’s Suburbs

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by Alan Higgins, Director of Architectural and Cultural History

Sharples Dining Hall

Sharples Dining Hall, Swarthmore College, Vincent Kling, 1964.

Just before coming to CRA, I wrapped up a project that examined the post-war era in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, a suburban community with roots dating to the earliest years of our country’s settlement (William Penn landed in Delaware County, not Philadelphia). Layered on top of this though, is an intricate and critically important layer of modernist architecture from the post-war era that had not been previously identified, documented, and evaluated. This architecture was prompted by swelling populations brought in to serve a massive industrial complex during World War II. Of particular note, and a previously uninvestigated trend, was the in-migration of prominent regional and national architects who worked in Philadelphia but lived in Delaware County and designed residences, commercial buildings, schools, and ecclesiastical structures – persons like Alfred and Jane West Clauss, Rudolph Zaprauskis, Louis DeMoll,  John T. Grisdale, and H. Mather Lippincott. Added to this were works by noteworthy Modernists such as George Daub, Norman Rice, Frank Weise, and Irving Stein.

Delaware County at Mid-Century: Reflections on History and Architecture

Peter Clauss Residence

Peter Clauss Residence, designed by Alfred Clauss, 1954.

The project, Delaware County at Mid-Century: Reflections on History and Architecture, presented a county-wide historic context and architectural survey designed to promote a dynamic discussion of the county’s recent history and to analyze the significant property types and architecture that emerged during the period.  Phase I of the project was concerned with analyzing historic trends, that is, ascertaining and documenting why Delaware County’s built environment evolved in the way that it did. Phase II of the study dealt with the physical development patterns of the periods, and included analyzing geographic patterns and transitions over time. Phase III was the identification, evaluation, and implementation stage, during which a county-wide architectural survey was conducted with custom-built survey forms for post-WWII properties, and property types and integrity thresholds were established.

Rudolph Zaprauskis Residence

Rudolph Zaprauskis Residence, Rudolph Zaprauskis, 1955.

In total, the context, organized thematically, presented in-depth analysis of seven areas: agriculture and industry, commerce, education, government and public services, residential development, society and culture, and transportation. It also presented a custom architectural styles guide, architect biographies, and other supplementary materials for future research.


If you would like more information on the project or additional resources you can contact me at sahiggins@crai-ky.com
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