Liberty Bell Center

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1 / 3 – Photo credit: Nic Lehoux

Process

Introduction

The $11 million Liberty Bell Center provides an expanded home for the Liberty Bell, America’s national treasure and internationally recognized symbol of freedom. Offering an exciting and authentic visitor experience, the Center honors the Bell’s significance as a national icon. The building’s architecture and its comprehensive exhibits respond to the history-laden site, context and circumstance, giving form to the client’s mission to bring the story of the Bell and its importance in U.S. history to larger and more diverse audiences.

Photo credit: Liberty Bell Center

The Nature of Place

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and The Olin Partnership envisioned a great American place in the heart of Philadelphia’s historic district in their 1997 master plan for Independence Mall. In keeping with this spirit, the building connects seamlessly to the city and to the collective memory of events that took place here. Contemporary yet resonating with 18th- and 19th-century architectural traditions, the brick, stone and glass building is an open, human-scale place of gathering and community. Place, architecture and icon join to make a moving and memorable experience. Visitors exit the bell chamber and emerge near the southwest corner of the mall, well positioned to continue their visit to the park’s other important sites and the surrounding historic city.

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Photo credit: Nic Lehoux

The Nature of People

The story of the Bell and the visitor’s personal encounter with this transcendent object are enveloped in three architectural elements: an outdoor interpretive area, an exhibit hall and a tapered cube housing the bell chamber. The visitor’s journey begins on a brick-and-stone floor, an extension of the pavement, with a gentle incline that follows the contours of the exterior landscape visible through generous windows opening onto the mall. The path continues along an undulating, rough-hewn granite wall. The Bell’s making, its historical significance and its universal meaning are presented through a series of interactive exhibits. The path reaches a plateau where a high-ceilinged chamber houses the Bell. Here, the Bell is seen against the compelling backdrop of nearby Independence Hall, where it once hung.

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Photo credit: Nic Lehoux

The Nature of Materials

With glass walls and a copper roof, the building appears as an open pavilion on the green mall. An undulating wall of Chelmsford granite, flecked with mica that sparkles in the light, weaves throughout the building. Overhead, a delicately detailed scrim of light-controlling vanes shelters the bell chamber from the southern sun. Cupped walls of white Carrara marble embrace the Bell, creating an intimate environment for both individuals and larger groups to view the Bell and reflect on its meaning. The low marble walls serve other purposes; by their slight outward cant, they minimize echo and direct the view upwards to Independence Hall’s spire.

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Photo credit: Nic Lehoux

Project Data

Location:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Dates:
1999 – 2003
Clients:
National Park Service
Size:
12,000 sf
Project PDF:

Awards/Honours

2010
Honor Award for Building Design
2006
Tucker Award for Design
2005
Honor Award for Design
2004
Excellence in Craftsmanship Award
Golden Trowel Award
Honor Award
2000
Honor Award for Design