Richard Maimon ’85 was 14 in 1977, the year Dilworth Plaza opened across from Philadelphia’s City Hall after nearly 10 years of construction. Because he passed through the transit hub frequently on his way to Center City to run errands with his family, he was excited to see the final product.
But he was disappointed; the plaza was not very welcoming, consisting of endless granite. “I thought, ‘Is that all there is?’” he recalls. “It suffered from a design that was very much defensive. The public was presented with walls and barriers and steps.”
Maimon was not alone and, decades later, when stakeholders got together to transform the eyesore, he was in a position to help. A partner at Philadelphia-based architectural firm KieranTimberlake, Maimon was part of the team behind the plaza’s renovation. The new Dilworth Park includes two 20-ft. glass pavilions that serve as entrances to the underground train station, a large lawn and a fountain fed with purified rainwater that becomes an ice-skating rink in the winter. Since the new four-acre space opened in 2014, Maimon says he’s visited every chance he gets.
“My kids roll their eyes,” he says. “But they’re teenagers.”
Maimon says Dilworth Park is one of the great things he’s worked on during his career at KieranTimberlake, which he joined full time in 1989. But there are many others. He is also heading up his firm’s work on 181 Mercer, NYU’s multi-purpose building for athletics facilities, performing arts venues, academic classrooms, and student and faculty residences; more recently he helped complete a master plan for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
One of his biggest projects — the new U.S. embassy in London — got some unexpected publicity when President Trump refused to attend a ribbon cutting in 2018, calling the building a “bad deal” (the approximately $1 billion project was funded entirely by proceeds from the sale of other U.S. government properties). The final design — a transparent crystalline cube — includes grey water recycling, a pond that filters and stores stormwater, and interior gardens modeled after U.S. ecosystems. Maimon says a major challenge was figuring out how to convey democratic values such as openness and transparency while providing maximum security.
“Through a set of carefully considered design moves, you can achieve multiple goals that originally might have seemed to be contradictory,” he says. “And that’s what we did.”
Maimon knew he wanted to be an architect even as a child; he loved “great spaces” like Philadelphia’s Wanamaker’s department store building. But he credits his liberal arts education at the College with preparing him for the parts of his profession that require negotiation and persuasion.
“You learn to be critical and thoughtful and rigorous, to understand other people’s points of view,” he says. “Architecture is as much about verbal communication as it is about the visual and technical side of making buildings. Everyone needs to feel like they’re being heard, and you need to respond to them.”
One lesson stands out: In 1984, when Maimon pinned a design he had drawn on transparent paper across two tack boards, Professor Robert A.M. Stern ’60 called out the aesthetic misstep, asking Maimon if he wanted to be remembered “for a crack running down the middle” of his drawing.
“While my first response was laughter, I quickly realized the lesson,” Maimon says. “How you present your work is as important as the content.”
Rebecca Beyer is a freelance editor and writer who lives in Boston.
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