The Philadelphia Art Commission reviewed three rather unglamorous projects Wednesday but gave each careful consideration, right down to examining the aesthetics of a sewer maintenance facility. That project, set for an empty lot on 61st Street near Lindbergh Boulevard received conceptual approval, as did a replacement bridge on Willow Grove Avenue.
The first case, a piece of public art proposed for a new Septa project at the 33rd and Dauphin bus loop in Strawberry Mansion, received final approval, bypassing the in-concept stage because of its unusual detail.
The work, called Arch of Resurgence, is a three-legged, 14-foot tall brick arch designed by the British-born sculptor Michael Morgan, an artist whose preferred medium is brick. Divided neatly in half, this proposed work features smooth brick on the bottom and more textured brick on the top, made iridescent by embedded broken glass. A cement arch will include a paraphrase of a quote from John Coltrane, the sax legend who lived nearby.
Morgan came armed with a mock-up, slide show, and drawings that anticipated every question, from maintenance to safety to lighting. His kitchen sink pitch — the promise to include both Coltrane and community members (who he'll invite to "imprint" about 200 bricks with their hands and feet) — earned admiration from Commissioner Karen Davis who praised its "wonderful elements."
Commissioner Emmanuel Kelly strived to get some questions across about the arch's dimensions but it was unclear whether he didn't understand its measurements or whether the artist didn't understand his concerns. Cross-puropse conversation notwithstanding, the approval process came much quicker than the presentation.
The next presentation was even more detailed, as John Gibbons, principal at KSK Architects, offered three possible scenarios for a Streets Department project that involves the replacement of the Willow Grove Avenue bridge over the Chestnut Hill West rail line. The bulk of the bridge will be steel, but design options for the parapets and railing are open, said Gibbons, who presented takes in cedar, stone and concrete, and painted steel. Gibbons said that in public meetings, neighbors offered a clear preference for the all-metal version.
The Commission seemed to lean that way, as well, with Kelly 's caveat being the question of whether it could be lightened to simulate the effects of the wood version. That concern was added to a motion for conceptual approval, which was unanimously passed.
Lastly came the still-more in-depth presentation for a new Philadelphia Water Department facility which will include locker rooms and ready rooms for sewer maintenance workers, as well as a training facility that features — who knew?! — pipe and manhole simulations for workers to scramble around in as preparation for their fieldwork. The site is currently filled only by overgrown brush, piles of tires, and chain link fences.
Commissioners earnestly batted around questions of the materials and colors of the building's facade, and landscaping questions of how many trees would be oak and how many would be maple, and whether all surfaces could be made permeable (the project will be seeking LEED Silver, according to civil engineer Erica Antoine of Burns Engineering).
An observer could be forgiven for thinking it was a bit too much and at one point Antoine seemed to indicate she felt the same way, politely reminding the Commission that this is to be a working industrial site with trucks coming in and out, carrying and dumping huge amounts of sand and other materials. Ultimately, the project received unanimous approval in concept, with a request for clarity and further details. The project, said Antoine, is not slated to begin until 2014 — and it had previously been before the Commission in 2007.
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