KSS Architects and studioRON bring the beach to Philly’s Bok Bar

Discover the city skyline from the perch of a bespoke furniture installation.

At the heart of a mixed and vibrant neighborhood in South Philadelphia stands the former Edward W. Bok Technical High School.

More limestone castle than an ivory tower,” Bok Technical High School was among 23 schools across Philadelphia closed in 2013 due to massive budget cuts and political reform.

One of many Philly public schools designed by architect Irwin T. Catharine, Bok Technical originally opened in 1938, trimmed with Art Deco details and towering 8 stories high above the surrounding neighborhood of rowhouses in South Philadelphia.

Purchased in 2014 by developer Scout Ltd., the Bok building is undergoing a meaningful transformation into a “creative anchor for the burgeoning East Passyunk neighborhood featuring studios and live-work space for the maker community.”

Courtesy of Scout, Ltd.

The Challenge

Building on the building’s heritage as an incubator of vocational creativity, Scout Ltd. is redeveloping the building as a hub for designers, makers, artists, and community, rebranded as “Bok”. To demonstrate to the community Bok’s transformative nature, Scout promptly opened Bok Bar, a seasonal rooftop nightlife and event space 8 stories above street level.

To further enmesh the space in a maker ethos, Scout commissioned eight design teams to craft bespoke furniture for Bok Bar. The KSS team, in collaboration with studioRON, was assigned lounge seating for 10 persons.

The Design

In a whirlwind 5-week process, in contrast to the often multi-year design processes experienced by the architecture team members, the group launched into design conversations:

“Our process started by examining the roof deck as an imaginary, almost unreal, site: as a local boardwalk atop one of the largest buildings in South Philadelphia. KSS and studioRON collaboratively developed a decision-making progress to refine this fantasy based around forms, postures, and materials native to the beach and the boardwalk.”
- Beth Emig, KSS Architects
Initial concept collage

A central undertaking for the design centered around the examination and expression of multiple dualities:

One of the project team’s principles for the project is centered on the idea that rather than dictating a certain seating style/posture/manner of interaction, the design encourages and supports freedom of interpretation and a variety of seating styles.

Using an iterative and collaborative design process, the team fine-tuned the design as a gently sloping form that is a canvas for promenade, pleasure and leisure with a front row view to the city. This concept manifested itself as a collection of seven pieces to be stacked, reconfigured, and playfully arranged in series or as individual objects.

A variety of conceptual sketches and (at top) the final sketch.

The materials (pool noodles and 2x4s) were chosen for their native qualities — wood framing abstracted from boardwalk construction juxtaposed with foam pool noodles often found in the surf. The vertically arranged noodles splash across the platform’s surface and interrupt the wood with color and comfort.

Final concept montage
“We sought to use a material native to either the beach or the boardwalk in a playful and unexpected way. From there, we championed the humble pool noodle. One of our key design moves includes ‘dipping’ pool noodles into the wood form, with the result being a cup holder dyed the same color as the actual noodle embedded in the design.”
- Beth Emig, KSS Architects

Building Techniques

The building techniques were intentionally selected bring to mind the intersection of beach and boardwalk — the boardwalk as framework for interaction, the beach as field for play.

3-D Model & Rendering
Through a detail-oriented process that included generating a 3-D model, the project team was able to generate a master list of specifications for every piece of wood in the installation.

Custom Construction Techniques
Developing custom jigs to ensure the size, length, and angle of each sub-section, the project team streamlined and fine-tuned the construction process to maintain design intent.

The Result

The final installation activates the rooftop bar, attracting sponteneous interaction among people and between person and object. Assembled as a continuous landscape, this segmented lounging platform can be rearranged, manipulated and dispersed about the roof deck. The dynamic compositions allow for varied opportunities to perch, lounge, and gather.

The impact? A design that participates in placemaking to spark authentic encounters with the neighborhood, the building’s blossoming arts community, and Bok’s singular character in the urban landscape.

“KSS Architects’ collaboration with studioRON interpreted the context of Bok Bar in a unique and playful way. Their intervention demonstrates a direct translation from concept to delivery, and offers a new scale of inhabitation to the space. They were deeply engaged in the process, and made the most of the open brief. We look forward to enjoying their piece for many seasons to come.”
- Emma Rutherford, Design Director and Co-Founder, Scout

Since installation, Bok Bar has seen the likes of a Questlove as part of Sundae, a global dance party held every Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia:

This season’s Bok Bar fare includes a menu by Humble Dumplings, local small-bath Ginger Kombucha from Inspired Brews, and a plethora of local, regional, and internationally-celebrated sippables worthy of a summer’s day.

We’ll see you there, 8 stories up.


Credits:

Core Project Team: Collaborative partnership, KSS Architects & studioRON
· Beth Emig, KSS Architects
· Jordan Mrazik, KSS Architects
· Becker Raab, KSS Architects
· Justin Bernard, studioRON
· Hannah Candelaria, studioRON
· Eric Mayer, studioRON

Specs:

Size: Seven (7) modules each 21” wide by 6' long ganged together to create a continuous sloped mass
Materials:
· 98 sloped sections made from wood 2x4 framing
· 55 pink pool noodles cut in 8” & 9” sections

KSS Architects is a full-service architecture, planning & interior design firm in Princeton, NJ, and Philadelphia, PA. Since our founding in Princeton in 1983, KSS Architects has matured, growing in size, abilities, and ambitions. Our clients are leaders in the fields of business, industry, education, development, cultural and social impact.

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