It's been a busy year for newly-minted Curbed Young Gun Lindsey Scannapieco. After a cutting her teeth designing experiential projects like 'Points of Welcome' pavilions along London's River Thames and a pop-up cinema out of recycled refrigerators, the 28-year old founder of urban design and development studio South LTD moved back to her native Philadelphia to take the helm of her first full-scale development project: a transformative reuse of the city's vacant Edward W.Technical High School Bok.
The 340,000-square-foot school, known simply as Bok, closed in June 2013 though Scannapieco is already in the process of purchasing it. The scale is huge, for sure, but even more impressive are the building's Art Deco architectural touches, which brought an air of elegance and charm that had Scannapieco head-over-heels immediately. While the project will take place in multiple phases and incorporate temporary uses to re-energize the space inside and out, the overall vision is to bring back Bok to its roots as an innovative "maker space" with facilities (a workshop, co-working space, job training) and affordable residences for artists. Curbed caught up with Scannapieco to chat about her career thus far, coming back to Philly and what it will take bring Bok back to life.
What got you into the development world?
Goodness knows! Growing up with a father in real estate development, the last thing I ever wanted to be was in real estate development. I made my own path—first working in arts management and then turning toward the public realm and interim-use installations. I developed an interest in how cities attract and entertain people. That led to a Master's degree in city design and social science and then lots of work abroad, including a three-year role with the Olympic Park Legacy Company. As my work started to interact with development more and more, I felt there was a real value in how real estate developers can make long-term impacts on the city.
There is a lot of rhetoric about the value of interim uses, and I do think they have an important role to play, but I think the long-term vision is ultimately where the most substantial impact can be made. I started to really consider how good design and a thoughtful approach to the larger context of a project can add social, economic and physical value and start to break down the boundaries between design and development. Long story short, it has been a bizarre ride, but I am back now exactly where my father always said I would be—in real estate development, too.
Films on Fridges project, via Scout LTD.
Tell us about your Films on Fridges project and time in London. What was the moment that you made the cognitive leap to use old fridges?
As a graduate student at the London School of Economics, my research focused on the neighborhood directly adjacent to the 2012 Olympic site. Speaking to various residents in the area about the oncoming change, there was a collective response that the loss of the historic "fridge mountain," a fridge disposal yard previously located on the Olympic Site where Zaha Hadid's London Aquatic Centre sits today. It was a big symbol of the shift away from the previous industrial use of the area. This inspired me to think that we could resurrect the fridge mountain to bring together existing residents, newcomers and visitors drawn to the Olympic site by celebrating what this area used to be. Instead of pinning the industrial past against the upcoming sporting festivities, we embraced the bizarre intersection of the two energies, which was happening in 2011.
I came up with the concept that we could build a temporary cinema out of fridges and show sports films on the same days as the 2012 Olympic Games, but just one year earlier to build awareness and anticipation. We showed Rocky, Cool Running's, Slapshot, Chariots of Fire, the global premiere of a documentary about soccer called Pelada and many others. People loved the idea and it was sold out for the entire three-week duration.
What was it like telling people your idea for the pop-up cinema made out of recycled refrigerator doors?
I think the biggest challenge and the people who were perhaps most reluctant to support the concept initially were the Environmental Agency (EA). Fridges are classified as a hazardous waste so we really had to find creative people within the EA that were willing to work with us and guide us in how perhaps we could use fridges as a building material. On my first call to them, the woman I spoke with could not understand why I would want to do such a thing!
What was it like, logistically?
It was difficult, and I hope never to work with hazardous waste material again, but we found a really creative approach and a great partner in SIMS Recycling to actually make it happen. It was Scout's first project so in many ways it was the thing that started it all. After that we started to get contacted by lots of people about future projects.
What's been your favorite project?
Each project has been so different and unique. Every time you get to that "aha!" moment when you realize you've got the right combination of elements to convey your vision with clarity and empathy then that project becomes your favorite.
O.K., tough question: what's been the project you think is most important?
Today, I am absolutely loving the Bok project. It is really a dream come true being able to consider the re-use of such a historic, beautiful building that can have such an impact.
Although the closing of a school has an impact on a neighborhood, the reuse (or lack of reuse) has a more profound impact on the surrounding community. With Bok, we have the potential to create a new piece of the city—it takes up an entire city block! The approach we are advocating looks at how we can use this existing civic building and continue to engage and offer amenities and resources to address the opportunities and challenges within the local resident population. It is extremely important that we listen to the existing building and support the infrastructure and opportunities that already exist given its past history as a vocational school. For such an important and long-standing landmark in the community, we believe a thoughtful and contextual approach is critical.
Photos inside Bok courtesy of Conrad Benner of Streets Dept.
How does the city of Philadelphia affect your creative process?
Since coming back to Philadelphia, I have been bowled over by the range of impressive people who are driving change. From looking at what Sam Sherman has done to transform East Passyunk Avenue through PARC (Passyunk Avenue Revitalization Corporation) to my dear friend Brooke Saylor Geeting who is cooking up the most delicious donuts at Cappofitto—people are working every day to make Philadelphia a more inviting and better city for creatives. I'm so inspired by seeing what has been done at Globe Dye Works or by grabbing lunch with friends at the URBN [Outfitters] cafeteria in the Navy Yard. It was designed by MS&R, who are working on the design at BOK. Probably most important are long walks and Philadelphia is a great city for a wander.
What is it about the Bok Technical High School project that gets you most excited?
One thing? I would probably have to say it is the scale—the building is 338,000 square feet! Don't get me wrong, there are days where it is absolutely terrifying, but I think the scale also enables us to do something truly innovative and groundbreaking. This new mixed-use center for innovators, entrepreneurs and creatives will be at a scale never seen before regionally and may have national significance. That is really exciting.
Festival of the Neighbourhood's 9 wayfinding stations, Summer 2013, London
What would you say is your dream project?
At a particular moment in time, I could have defined many of our projects as the "dream project." When we are invited to design and install nine installations on the banks of the River Thames (in video, above) that would be viewed by over 6 million people, that was a dream come true.
Honestly, Bok is really my dream project today! I am totally enthralled with the opportunity to lead such a defining and important project for South Philadelphia. Otherwise anyone who knows me well also knows that I have a love story with the Los Angeles River, but who knows where things will take me.