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The Academy of Music | Notes of Interest

Sometimes making something right again is the most valuable gift an architect can give. This project is an in-depth, tireless, devoted effort towards a truthful restoration, and the loyalty of the final product to the original space is incredibly touching and magnificent in itself.

The Academy of Music is the oldest continuously operating concert hall in the United States. The first performance occurred on January 26, 1857, and was followed by an extravagant ball. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.

By 2007, years of continuous use had taken its toll on the Academy's Ballroom. The 40' x 80' Ballroom is spatially unchanged from 1857, but unfortunately many other historic features of the room were changed over time.

Through the generosity of Lee Annenberg and the Academy's ongoing restoration fundraising efforts, the Academy was in a position to undo 152 years of alterations. Hundreds of hours of design research went into reconstructing the original design intent for the room, using the Academy's substantial archives, as well as resources from The Philadelphia Historical Commission, The Pennsylvania Historical Society, and The Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Notably, the discovery of an 1860 photograph of the room provided extraordinary guidance.

Lengthy efforts to repair the original room went into play, including the reintroduction of the chandeliers and gas light fixtures, and also the restoration of the glass windows, which had since been walled over and covered with mirrors. Months and months of work went into reestablishing the paint scheme: onsite paint studies, laboratory analysis, paint removal for uncovering outlines of the original decorative paint scheme, and studies for reestablishing the color pallet were all involved in this lengthy process. Additionally, strides were taken for solving the problems of water damage to the room—both structurally and visually—and for prevention of any future damage.

At its opening, the Academy of Music's Ballroom was described as the most beautiful room in all of Philadelphia and was the premiere reception space for the city. The historic importance of the room and that legacy guided every design decision in the hopes of recreating these same sentiments today.

Additional Credits

  • General Contractor: L.F. Driscoll Company
  • Engineer: Keast & Hood (Structural); PHY Engineers Inc. (Electrical/Mechanical)
  • Lighting Consultant: Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design
  • Restoration and Conservation: John Canning Painting; Arnold Wood Conservation
  • Photo Credit: © Tom Crane Photography

The Academy of Music

Jury Comments

Beautiful execution of historic preservation. The fact that this entry was so well documented and expertly executed, down to every faithful detail, makes us proud to revere the past and keep it ever present.

A thoughtful, meticulous restoration in which technical improvements are ingeniously concealed, and lighting is carefully placed to draw attention to the proportions, color and detailing that reawakens the space's unique character.

Sensitive and masterful.

2011 Institute Honor Awards for Interior Architecture Jury

  • John Ronan, AIA, (Chair)
  • John Ronan Architects
  • Chicago
  • Jaime Canaves, FAIA
  • Florida International University-
  • School of Architecture
  • Miami
  • Margaret Kittinger, AIA
  • Beyer Blinder Belle Architects
  • New York City
  • Brian Lewis
  • The Capital Group Companies
  • Irvine, Calif.
  • Brian Malarkey, AIA
  • Kirksey
  • Houston

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