In a perfect world there would be no need for juvenile detention. Yet, in Philadelphia, as elsewhere, teenagers commit crimes—about 5,000 each year in that city. Local agencies are trying to adjust these young people’s trajectories for the better in turn, and the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center is taking part in that effort. In its site selection and design, the new facility helps clients feel like they matter to their hometown.
Photo © Paul S. Bartholomew
Many of the same decisions guiding PJJSC’s social contract, moreover, enhanced the 160,000-square-foot, 150-bed building’s environmental credibility. Designed by UCI Architects for the Department of Human Services, it was the largest municipal project built to LEED standards in Philadelphia as of its opening last December.
PJJSC replaces the 105-bed Youth Study Center on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which was demolished in 2009 to make way for the Barnes Foundation. Although operating on a prime piece of Center City real estate, the Youth Study Center was “like an isolated island,” says UCI project manager Roy D. Conard. “Other than a few bus lines, the former location was not very convenient to subways, trolleys, and trains. The building turned its back to the Parkway. And other than Family Court, the institutions nearby were not complimentary. The local demographics were made up more of singles, students, seniors, and young families; not families with adolescents and teens.”
The new site is located two blocks from the 46th Street station of the heavily traveled Market-Frankford Elevated line. Bus lines also crisscross PJJSC’s vicinity, and bike routes were recently established here. Just as important is the demography of the neighborhood, which is a crossroads of Dunlap, Haverford North, and Walnut Hill. Unlike the downtown museum district, the place is dense with housing, from publicly subsidized to middle-class. Institutions and commercial uses pepper the area, too.
PJJSC fills a rare hole in this urban fabric, and city officials are weaving it even more densely by developing Police Headquarters and the Health Department on parcels next door. Conceivably, the facility is now within walking distance for some users.
“By not isolating the facility in a remote corner of the city (nor in a neighborhood of non-complimentary use) the City hopes to encourage and enable frequent family visitation, as well as connections to local schools and institutions,” Conard explains. To be sure, site selection supported transit usage and environmental sustainability generally, evidenced by the minimal parking on site. Perhaps more important, in site selection one also sees the social sustainability of investing in existing communities and helping teens feel less dislocated from their homes.
These guiding principles affected the design of the building itself, beginning with programming. Besides having more beds than the Youth Study Center, PJJSC treats these units more humanely, with lounge areas and bathrooms whose appointments were partly informed by feedback from past clients. Beyond, private rooms accompany a large common area where judicial and social-services professionals and families can meet with the teens. PJJSC also includes 10 classrooms, two family courtrooms, a health clinic, and gym facilities on a corridor that opens to a courtyard accommodating recreation and gardening: With punishment comes opportunity in urban agriculture, or academics, or better fitness—new outlets of expression, and new ways for these budding adults to give back to Philly.
In the way the building engages the neighborhood, PJJSC communicates this seamless transition from troubled youth to contributing citizen. UCI’s massing is campus-like, more in keeping with the residential scale. “The building’s scale works with the topography so no more than two stories occur at any location,” Conard says, continuing, “The public faces along the street frontages are very open with significant glazing. The community room and its adjacent garden are at the street corner to ‘reach out’ to the community.” The community room is finished in wood harvested from the site, and security elements are integrated to landscape and hardscape so as to disappear.
PJJSC includes many other gestures of community, such as stormwater and urban-heat-island management. Design and construction also involved residents quite actively. That community room and garden are a result of local feedback. So is a resource center where support groups and other services are available to all parents. “The City hopes to make connections with the neighbors so they feel PJJSC is a part and partner of their community and not an outside presence,” Conard concludes. Some neighbors already feel very invested. Thanks to another municipal initiative dedicated to local employment and greener commuting, many residents were employed and trained in PJJSC’s construction. Hiring efforts also focused on woman- and minority-owned contractors.