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PHILADELPHIA-Central Library, the flagship of the Free Library of Philadelphia system, is the last of its 55 locations to be renovated. In its case, the city and the institution’s two boards envision a structure double the size of the existing Beaux Arts building, one that will rival other landmarks along Center City’s museum boulevard and contain areas for performances as well as updated, traditional library functions.

The building, designed by Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele and patterned after a palatial 18th century French government structure, was completed in 1927. Although many of its fine details, such as staircases and central skylights, remain, much of its luster is significantly tarnished. Its capacity is stretched beyond the limit and, technologically, it is a dinosaur.

The city will contribute $30 million to the estimated $100-million cost. The library must go begging for the rest.

Gary A. Hack, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school of fine arts and head of the city planning commission, headed the architect selection committee. “We heard from the best architects in the world,” Hack says, adding, “at least 20 of them would build a great building.”

The four finalists are: Argentina-based Cesar Pelli, who designed Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC and Brandywine Realty Trust’s planned Cira Centre here near 30th Street Station; Britain-based Foster and Partners, which designed the Great Court at London’s British Museum and an extension of the Prado Museum in Madrid; Canada-based Israeli Moshe Safdie, who recently completed a much-heralded library in Salt Lake City; and Mexico-based Ten Arquitectos, which designed the new Visual and Performing Arts library in Brooklyn, NY.

“I am delighted that these four extraordinary architectural firms are the finalists in one of the most exciting building projects in our city’s history,” says Peter Benoliel, chairman of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation. Each firm has been given $25,000 to complete detailed drawings prior to the Oct. 22 public forum.

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