The Grand Design of the Nation’s First Commodities Exchange Is Uncovered and Celebrated

The Bourse, BLT Architects, Metamorphosis Awards, food hall

The Philadelphia Bourse opened in 1895 as the nation’s first commodities exchange, a building in which merchants could meet, share ideas and conduct business. The design, which combines Victorian and Renaissance styles, features an open trading floor at the ground level and seven levels of office space above that wrapped a central light well open to the sky. The building occupies an entire city block in a prime location for commerce then and attracting tourists, visiting Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, now.

When the Great Depression hit, the grandiosity of the Bourse began to fade. By the 1950s and ’60s, the building showed signs of neglect and, in 1971, the stockholders sold the property. New owners capitalized on the building’s proximity to Philadelphia’s tourist attractions and converted the main space to a retail, food and beverage destination. These successive renovations buried the grandeur of the interior, eroding the beauty of the building to suit the new tourist- focused uses.

By the time of the Bourse’s recent purchase by MRP Realty, the 358,000-square-foot building was stale, partially occupied and the remaining office spaces were undesirable. Beautiful architectural details were muddied by dim, surface-mounted incandescent globe lights and a nearly monochrome beige paint.

MRP Realty approached BLT Architects to develop a design vision for the Bourse to use in conjunction with a competitive bid to purchase the building. The architect recognized the opportunity to restore the interiors to their original splendor and create a space with great social impact, engaging the community in a meaningful and productive way. BLT Architects’ design vision, which centered on the restoration of the Bourse’s signature elements, creation of a top-tier food hall, revitalization of its office spaces and adding new amenities, earned the firm an Honorable Mention in the Interior category of retrofit’s Metamorphosis Awards.

BEFORE PHOTOS: BLT Architects; AFTER PHOTOS: Jeffrey Totaro Photography

The architect worked closely with the contractor to ensure that renovations were sensitive to the original detailing and new details were keeping with the original design, complementing the historic ornament. The team began renovations by removing a portion of the inserted mezzanine level to restore the original double-height grand entrance, uncovering original architectural details that were retained and restored. The renovated lobby serves as an entrance for the food hall and the offices above and is a dramatic announcement of the restored glory of the building.

Then, focus turned to the central atrium that housed the ill-fated food court. Mammoth openings in the floor created during a previous renovation were filled, resulting in greater programmable area and flexibility for the food hall.

By removing all surface-mounted lights and introducing concealed LED lighting, the original architectural ornamentation is celebrated. A cool, bright color palette highlights the ornament throughout the space. The original wrought-iron rails of the stair and balconies are painted a cool gray to provide contrast against the white walls. The whiteness of the space and the brightness of skylights enhance the Bourse, bringing it back to life.

The final major focus of the renovation was the office component. A highlight is a concept called “The Exchange,” an amenity space for smaller-office tenants to meet, dine and share ideas. This space includes floor-to-ceiling windows that look into the atrium, as well as tables and stadium seating for working or relaxing.

The original vision for a building in which individuals meet, exchange ideas and conduct business stands true once more, and the Bourse’s 1895 architecture is embraced and shown in its true beauty.

Editor’s Note: To read a full feature about the Bourse, see the May-June issue.

Retrofit Team



STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: O’Donnell & Naccarato Structural Engineers

MEP/FP ENGINEER: Concord Engineering

CONSTRUCTION: Daniel J. Keating Co.

LIGHTING DESIGN: Lighting Design Collaborative


PORCELAIN TILE: Tabula Wood-look Tile from Garden State Tile

MINI BLINDS: Bali Customiser 1-inch Aluminum Blinds by SWF contract


LINEAR DIFFUSER: Architectural Linear Diffuser by Titus

LOBBY PENDANT LIGHT: Litecontrol Inde-Pendant by Hubbell Lighting

FLEXIBLE LINEAR LED LIGHTS: Solara Flexible Lighting System by Apogee Lighting

LED ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING: Lumenfacade by Lumen Pulse

LIGHTING GRID: Global Trac Pro by Nordic Aluminum

EXHAUST HOOD: Captiveaire

COMMERCIAL SINKS: Hand Sink and Three Compartment Sink by Eagle Group

WATER HEATER: Lowboy Electric Water Heater by Bradford White

AUTOMATIC GREASE INTERCEPTOR: GreaseStopper Automatic by Highland Tank

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