Collaboration with Art: Janet Echelman and Susan Weiler in conversation

Mon. 7 April, 6:00pm - 7:30pm
Meyerson Hall, Lower Gallery

Moderated by Richard Weller, Professor and Chairman of Landscape Architecture; Martin and Margy Meyerson Chair of Urbanism

In the 1600s, when William Penn first laid out his plan for the City of Philadelphia, he envisioned Center Square as a vital social, commercial and cultural hub. As the City evolved, the square adopted many uses-first as the main water works, then later as the site of City Hall and the nexus of public transit. When the lands to the west of City Hall were annexed to create Dilworth Plaza, the vision of the site was once again one of social and civic gathering, but the stark, granite maze of walls and stairs left the Plaza isolated and underutilized. OLIN and its partners have now been given the opportunity by the City to transform Dilworth Plaza and help realize its potential as a vibrant and functional civic space worthy of its prominent location and history.

Artist Janet Echelman (Studio Echelman) and Designer Susan Weiler (OLIN Partners) will discuss designers' collaborations with art, looking at the goal of transforming historic Dilworth Plaza (Philadelphia City Hall) into a focal point for the city's thriving downtown, the Center City District. To do so, OLIN proposed leveraging a commissioned artwork inspired by the site's historic associations with transportation. The site served as the city's Centre Square Water Works in the 1800s, and in the next century was expanded with land from the Pennsylvania Railroad, which used steam-powered trains.

The art will be embedded in the new plaza's 11,600-square foot fountain and will trace above ground in real time the paths of the three subway lines below. Described by the artist as "a living X-ray of the city's circulatory system," the work creates moving 4-foot-tall curtains of mist, which glow at night when illuminated by multiple layers of colored light. The artwork aims to physically and psychologically transform the way people view they city's central square and enter its public transit system. The integration of the art was made possible through collaboration with the site's outstanding design team.

Echelman wanted to focus on the city's industrial history, which she felt was not as widely known as its Federalist history, yet worthy of attention. Her larger goal was to generate a sense of place and create a communal urban experience. The ground-breaking ceremony occurred on January 30, 2012 and is set for completion in 2015.

The principals of KieranTimberlake, the architecture firm on the project collaborating with OLIN and Echleman, are both on PennDesign's Architecture faculty