21 Aug 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by dorispectorfineart
Patch Instagram photo by dorispectorfineart

Wyeth Laboratories: 1957 and Today

Might future generations regret the loss of buildings like Radnor's Wyeth labs?

Wyeth Laboratories: 1957 and Today


One of Radnor's largest landmarks, often overlooked in plain sight, is the Wyeth Laboratories complex, built in 1957. Though the property has changed hands several times over the years, the original Wyeth buildings are currently threatened with development of the site. It may be difficult to imagine, but the Wyeth labs were an architectural showpiece when first constructed. The buildings, designed by the prestigious New York firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, were featured in a 6-page spread in the nationally-distributed journal "Architectural Record" in April, 1957. 

Though these buildings might not be thought of as great works of architecture today, it is interesting to read the designers' intent in the 1957 article: "The architects placed the laboratory on the north knoll, the office building on the south knoll, and connected them at lower level with a one-story, glass-enclosed reception lobby across the central swale... The scheme focuses on a landscaped court between the two buildings; an area visible through the glass as one enters the lobby... The buildings are faced with fixed sheets of blue-green, heat-absorbing plate glass and porcelain enameled panels held in place by a pattern of delicate, natural aluminum surrounds. The porcelain panels are deep blue-green."

The photographs shown here depict the same angle, one from the 1957 article and the other taken this fall. Very little has changed from the original design; even the "deep blue-green" panels remain in place. Today, when under-appreciated works of modern architecture face an uncertain future, it is worth thinking back to when these buildings were new: at the time, Victorian architecture was disappearing from Philadelphia and the Main Line countryside at an alarming rate. It was appreciated about as much as the boxy, glass and metal-clad buildings of the mid-20th century are today. Might future generations regret the loss of buildings like Radnor's Wyeth labs?

- Greg Prichard, Radnor Historical Society

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