beats museums all to hell


  OK.  I’m really good at shopping for women’s clothing.  Scratch that.  Really good at accompanying roommate and/or daughters while they’re on the hunt.  It’s great.  They’re not the least bit interested in my opinions so I’m free to occupy myself as I see fit.  If you’re still with me, take note:  The nature of the particular venue makes all of the difference. 

  The trick for outlet malls and other similarly dismal points of the built environment – in which everything seems bland, temporary, and, well, cheap – is to take along reading material.  Given the opportunity to plan ahead, I usually take a copy of Le Monde and a small dictionary.  My rudimentary French draws broadsheet perusal out over several hours and at day’s end I’m left with interesting insights.

  By contrast, a visit to an establishment characterized by considered sensitive design can be more than pleasant.  Take the above for example.  That is the entrance to Anthropologie’s flagship store in Philadelphia.  It was designed by the prominent Boston firm of Peabody and Sterns as a townhouse for a member of the Drexel family in about 1898.

  Sarah Drexel Van Rensselaer and her husband Alex were wealthy, active, and generous members of Philadelphia high society.  During a 1901 circumnavigation, they were received by the Japanese Royal family, The Court of St James, The Viceroy of India, and the Rajah of Singapore.  A contemporary account of the housewarming for this pied-a-terre at 18th and Walnut said that they wore $10 million in jewelry*.

  Anyway, as I’ve indicated (and you can see), the place has been repurposed and gloriously so.  As Sir David Chipperfield said of another great spot: “…people need to go inside and be there for a while before realizing that, you know, this is actually quite a nice place to be…”**    

  It is indeed wonderfully generous space in which to simply move about.  And the opportunity therein to watch loved ones – and others – preen makes for a singular emotionally tumescent experience.  No one in my family will believe this, but I think it beats museums all to hell.

*From the Drexel University Archives

**As quoted in the August 2012 United Airlines Hemispheres in-flight magazine describing his Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa.

***During a recent visit I attempted to photograph a few lovely young birds adjusting their feathers, but was advised that a few of Philadephia’s finest were on their way.  I decided to leave and allow them to enjoy the experience on their own…


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