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Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects will bring its eye for lines, light, and links to the past to Harrisburg, carefully preserving the historic architecture of the Forum Building.

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After you take two steps inside the building’s lobby, you know it: the terrazzo floors; the marble wainscot; the ornate woodwork spread across the ceiling. The Forum building in Harrisburg is a special, historical structure standing at the heart of the state capital complex.

Today, it’s set for a comprehensive renovation/restoration.

Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects will lead that renovation – working with the Pennsylvania Department of General Services (PA DGS), transforming much of the building’s 400,000-plus square feet into offices and other modern, useful spaces for the State of Pennsylvania. It’s a high-profile, high-excitement project for the firm in part because of the building’s location and history—and in part because M&D already renovated a well-known section of the structure  a few years ago.

“This is one of those of those landmark-type projects for Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects,” says Frank E. Dittenhafer II, FAIA, LEED AP of the firm. “We’re very excited to get to work on the Forum building again because it involves a lot of the things we’re very good at.”

Bringing a building back to life

The original layout for the Forum’s upper floors featured long rows of closed-off offices, and hallway after hallway of small, segmented spaces where individuals sat alone. Today, though, people don’t work like they used to.

So, Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects’ design for the Forum building will expand those spaces, selectively taking down some walls and offering a more open office plan. High ceilings and large windows will bring in considerable natural light, and modular workplace systems with partitions will allow adaptable layout options for years to come.

“It’s going to be very functional and very flexible to meet the needs of a modern office environment,” says M&D Architect Todd Grove.

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The new design also takes into account the building’s great history — including the State Library of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Law Library. That’s more than 25 miles of stacks of books and other periodicals on multiple levels, some held under high security for their historical value, to work around during the two-year construction phase of the project.

But, that’s more of a privilege than a problem. The Forum project is a rare opportunity to help restore an important piece of history in the state capitol – and create a special new place that soon could be home to about 1,000 workers. 

“We’re looking to bring this site back to life as a new space,” Grove says, “but the original, historic nature of the building will stay intact, and we’ve really drawn from that.”

‘One of the most incredible spaces’

The Forum is best known today as the home of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. That 1,600-seat auditorium is located in a half-circle-shaped space on one side of the site and hosts both the symphony and other large events downtown.

It was given a complete renovation a few years ago — by Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects.

“To me, that’s just one of the most incredible spaces anywhere,” Dittenhafer says. “But it also shows we’re familiar with the building and what can be done there.”

The Forum renovation plays to the strengths of M&D, which is known for thoughtful, creative restoration and preservation work. Through projects such as the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore and Gettysburg’s Schmucker Hall, the firm has demonstrated an ability to balance historical sensibility with modern needs.

Now, Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects will bring that same eye for lines, light, and links to the past to Harrisburg, carefully preserving the historic architecture of the Forum Building as they look to leave a legacy there that people will enjoy for years to come.

“This is a great piece of our history,” Dittenhafer says. “And through this project it will once again serve an important purpose.”