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February 7, 2014

Dranoff’s sophisticated glass tower continues to transform S Broad

According to Inga Saffron at, at 567 feet, SLS International will be the tallest high-rise built just for residential use in the city.┬áThe exterior in clad in glass, but it’s more than a “simplistic, straight-up pile of floors.”

KPF envisioned the tower as a composition of interlocking boxes. It’s a visual trick, achieved by cantilevering the north and south walls out from the central shaft in asymmetrical sections. They jut out only about five feet, but it’s enough to provide a sense of depth and scale that you don’t get with slick glass walls.carl-dranoff-sls-600

KPF’s puzzle box doesn’t just sit statically on its podium; it appears to slide over it, like a flash drive plugging into its USB port. The podium, which will house a parking garage and hotel meeting rooms, also gives the impression that it’s made of interconnected boxes. Scrims of dark terra cotta will pop out from the glass to screen the parking decks.

SLS is lean as well as tall. The tower floors will be just 7,500 square feet, making it as leggy as a fashion model. Just a decade ago, Philadelphia condos were far bulkier. The St. James’ floor plates are 16,800 square feet, the Murano’s 11,200. For all that height, SLS has fewer units than 10 Rittenhouse.

But packing in the same number of units requires more floors. Philadelphia’s residential high-rises have been gaining an average of 100 feet in every building cycle – going from 300-footers in the 1980s, to 400-footers in the early 2000s.

Now that we’re into the 500-foot range, it’s likely that Philadelphia condos will continue to get taller, as they have in New York, where a forest of super-tall, 1,000-foot-plus buildings is rising near Central Park. The demographic for the super-tall condos tends to be older, and they want a full menu of concierge services. The hotel-condo combo makes that easier to provide.

But the mix also makes things more complicated on the ground. To serve the building, Dranoff is seeking zoning changes from City Council to allow big driveways on both Broad and Spruce Streets, as well as a height increase. Because the building’s loading dock is planned for narrow Spruce Street, delivery trucks will have to back in, a maneuver sure to cause traffic headaches. The first Council hearing is scheduled for Feb. 12.

Like other hotel developers, Dranoff is seeking a state subsidy – $10 million – as well as the city’s usual 10-year property-tax abatement. That’s a lot of public subsidy for a building that will serve the one percent.

But at least the rest of us will get to enjoy looking at it.