Liberty Bell Center

National Park Service, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 
The 1997 master plan of Independence Mall envisioned the making of a great American place in the heart of Philadelphiaís historic district. In keeping with this spirit, the program of a new building on the mall to house the Liberty Bell demanded a distinctly American building, seamlessly connected to this place, to the city and to the collective memory of events that took place here.

Opened in October 2003, the $11 million Liberty Bell Center provides a larger home for the bell, and an exciting and authentic visitor experience. Accessible by day and illuminated at night, the 12,000 square foot structure honors the bellís significance as the nationís most cherished icon of freedom. The buildingís architecture and its comprehensive exhibits respond to the history-laden site, context and circumstance, giving form to the clientís mission to bring the story of the bell and its importance in U.S. history to larger and more diverse audiences.

While providing an urban edge along Sixth Street to the west and a cornerstone to the mall, the building offers a sylvan pavilion for park visitors. Contemporary, and yet resonating with the eighteenth and nineteenth-century architectural traditions of the city, the brick, stone and glass building is an open, humanly scaled place of gathering and community. The story of the bell and the visitorís personal encounter with this transcendent object are enveloped in three architectural elements: a covered outdoor interpretive area, an elongated rectilinear exhibit hall and a tapered cubic volume housing the bell chamber.

Glass walls and a metal-clad wood roof join a brick and stone-paved arborway and sun-shading trellises to form the buildingís enclosure. The visitorís experience unfolds along an undulating granite wall that is reminiscent of Jeffersonís serpentine wall. The bellís making, its historical significance, and its universal meaning are presented through a series of interactive and informative exhibits. There are places for foreign visitors to hear the story of the bell in their native languages and for large groups to assemble for special presentations.

The inclined floor plane of the exhibit area conforms to the contour of the exterior landscape visible through generous windows opening onto the mall. The visitorsí path rises gently to a plateau where the glass and marble chamber houses the bell. Here it is seen against the compelling backdrop of nearby eighteenth-century Independence Hall and its tower where the bell once hung. In the chamberís expansive architectural volume a great window reinforces the intimate relationship of hall and bell, making the bellís importance explicit.

On the exterior, a delicately detailed scrim of sunlight-controlling vanes shelters the bell chamberís glass vitrine enclosure. The extended roof plane visors the enclosure, shielding the bell from the south sun. Cupped walls of white marble embrace the bell, creating an intimate environment for both individuals and larger audiences to view the bell and reflect on its meaning. Place, architecture and icon join to make a moving and memorable experience. Visitors exit the bell chamber along the final segment of the serpentine wall, emerging near the southwest corner of the mall, well positioned to continue their visit to the parkís other important sites and the surrounding historic city.

Awards

2010 Honor Award for Building Design
United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Designing the Parks Awards
2006 Tucker Award for Design
Building Stone Institute
2005 Honor Award for Design
AIA Pennsylvania
2004 Honor Award
AIA Philadelphia
2004 Golden Trowel Award
International Masonry Association, Mid-Atlantic Section
2004 Excellence in Craftsmanship Award
General Building Contractors Association of Philadelphia
2000 Honor Award for Design
AIA Philadelphia
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Related Links

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