Critic misses the point on Tyler, Alter

Philadelphia Inquirer critic Inga Saffron blasted Temple’s handling of Tyler and Alter Hall in an ignorant and poorly formulated article.

Temple has been a university for working-class students since its beginning. As such, it has geared itself to providing an affordable education more than setting precedents for much of its history. The newly built Tyler School of Art building and Alter Hall represent Temple’s shift to a more global and higher-profile university.

The focus on students’ education was never lost, though. The new Tyler School of Art was designed partially with that tradition in mind. Despite producing accomplished artists, Tyler’s Elkins Park location was far too small. Its glass-blowing facilities consisted of a one-bay garage and a lean-to shack with a dirt floor.

“The Elkins Park campus was 75 years old and was built for 400 students. Tyler was essentially a victim of its own success. We were squeezing over 700 students into a small, old, outdated, worn facility,” said Therese Dolan, interim dean of Tyler.

Inga Saffron apparently isn’t concerned with Tyler’s state-of-the-art facilities.

Saffron, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic, wrote an article published Friday that blasted both Tyler and Alter Hall, calling them the “most frustrating demonstration of Temple’s cluelessness” and a “mausoleum for the egos of the nation’s financial titans,” respectively.

My first problem with Saffron’s article is its own cluelessness. She refers to the neighborhood directly north of the new Tyler building as Yorktown. Yorktown is actually five blocks south, bordering the southern, not the northern, end of campus. Saffron is talking about a neighborhood known as Nelson Brown and People’s Village.

Furthermore, her complaint is that Temple gave the neighborhood a terrible view, putting Tyler’s loading docks against it. Saffron also complains about Tyler’s front entrance facing the back of the Biology-Life Sciences building.

For one, the loading docks have to go somewhere, and they fit better on Diamond Street, which is a two-way street, than on either 13th or 12th streets, both of which are one-way.

Also, she wrote that Presser Hall should have been demolished and incorporated into Tyler, so that Tyler could have occupied a more attractive space, the intersection of 13th and Norris streets.

Where would the Boyer College of Music and Dance have gone during the extensive construction?

Temple is crowded enough as it is. Also, it’s hard to believe that a main entrance on that intersection would make a serious difference in the feel of Tyler. The other three corners of the intersection are occupied by the back of the Biology-Life Sciences building, the back of Barton Hall and the corner of Tomlinson Theater.

Saffron claims that Tyler was “dumped” at the far end of campus “seemingly at random.”

I would like to know where Saffron thinks Tyler could have gone. North Philadelphia is not a blank slate for Temple to draw upon; it is a collection of neighborhoods with their own extensive histories, not to mention homes already standing. Temple is growing into its future as a world-renowned institution, and there are going to be growing pains, considering its past as a largely commuter campus.

In Saffron’s article, she even calls Temple’s planners lazy. Apparently, she doesn’t realize the incredible dedication and persistence it takes to see a project as large as Tyler’s new building to completion, especially when one doesn’t have the fundraising potential of a law or business school.

“Temple has been incredibly supportive of Tyler’s needs and has worked diligently to facilitate the move” from Elkins Park, Dolan said.

Saffron doesn’t stop at Tyler. She calls Alter Hall “morbidly obese.” I fail to see how a building that takes up less than one square block is morbidly obese. Besides, the point is not to teach Fox School of Business students in a pretty, aesthetically pleasing building. It is to give them an education in a top-notch facility with the best technology available. And this it does.

I have taken guided tours of both Tyler’s new building and Alter Hall, and I saw nothing of what Saffron did. Perhaps it is because I am not an architecture expert, as she is. Or maybe it is because it’s unfair and ignorant to criticize one aspect of a building without taking into account the limitations the builders and planners were faced with.

Stephen Zook can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful article, Steve. Tyler was never “dumped” at the end of the campus. We now have Boyer, Tyler and the School of Communications and Theater at the north end to form an integrated arts campus that facilitates dialogue and cooperative programs that will enhance interdisciplinary learning for our exceptionally gifted students. It would be helpful if writers such as Saffron and Sozanski would actually talk to the people involved before they write their stories about Tyler. I always expected my students to do adequate research before they voiced their opinions. One would hope for the same from professional journalists so they could avoid misinformation about the new building and the Wolgin prize.
    Terry Dolan
    Interim Dean
    Tyler School of Art

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