Theses (Historic Preservation)

Document Type

Thesis or dissertation

Date of this Version



Suggested Citation:

Hammitt, Nathaniel (2015). Radical Preservation: The Transformation of a Vacant Philadelphia School to Address Contextual Urban Opportunities. (Masters Thesis). University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.


History and structure are traditionally seen as barriers: blockades between zones of occupation. But in fact both melt and dissolve even as they are formed. Structure and history are not blockades, rather thresholds-- themselves fully occupiable.

This thesis is the transformation of a Philadelphia district school-- but it is also a subversion of traditional adaptation. Investigating beyond existing means of preservation, the upgrade and recasting of Edward Bok AVTS projects a catalytic process and product: the synthesis of volumetric, organizational, and material recursions toward an architecture that challenges modes of design and community psychology within a historic framework.

Urban schools throughout the United States are experiencing unprecedented fluctuations in district enrollment: therefore this thesis addresses a matter of regional and national urgency. One in every three Philadelphia residents live within half a mile of a closed school: therefore this is a crisis affecting a large proportion of the city.

A vacant building negatively impacts one block, but a vacant school negatively impacts an entire community: therefore the effect of a single large abandoned building on its neighborhood is substantial-- a building’s reuse can have a redeeming impact on local perceptions of wellness and justice. Across the top twelve US cities the most common adaptation for a vacant school is to become a charter school. When this process of adaptive reuse is more closely analyzed new opportunities begin to emerge (other than creating more charter schools) -- this helps us understand and activate civic heritage assets in new transformative ways.


transformation, upgrade, schools, adaptive reuse, psychopolitics



Date Posted: 15 June 2015