Bridging the formality of the Sister Cities Fountain plaza and the charmingly rustic children’s garden is an inviting, modern pavilion. Digsau’s Jules Dingle described the pavilion as a threshold space, designed to create a “seamless transition from city to garden.”
Dingle explained that the pavilion’s form deliberately echoes “rock forms that might loom overhead and create shelter” somewhere deep in the Wissahickon. The texture and tone of the pavilion’s natural materials soften the design’s sharp angles, and create a critical visual link in the park’s landscape. From inside, the glassy walls provide a 260° vista of Sister Cities Park, Swann Fountain, and the Parkway beyond.
The pavilion's walls are clad with chocolaty blocks of Emerson (aka Eramosa) Limestone that is either buffed smooth, revealing striations that look like wood grain, or left rough. The ceiling is covered with cedar planks, which move from the building’s interior through the glass walls out onto the underside of the pavilion's overhanging roofs. Over it all, a green roof pulls the plantings from the discovery garden up on top of the pavilion.
Beyond serving as a unifying design feature, the pavilion will house a Fairmount Park Visitor’s Center outpost and a café operated by Milk and Honey
which will help underwrite the park's upkeep by the Center City District.
For such a small area, it’s striking how heavily the new park is programmed. It’s a café! It’s a fountain! It’s a discovery garden and boat pond!
It’s a small space, but all of this action is in service of a goal: To create activity and attract people to this part of the Parkway.
“We’re putting uses in there that draw people into the park," Center City District President Paul Levy told me, contrasting Sister Cities with Aviator Park across the Square, which is more passive. People attract people. So if the area around a park lacks the density and foot traffic then the space can be activated by adding attractions within the park. Think Rittenhouse Square vs. Franklin Square.
The park's program also makes Sister Cities feels like a place for all seasons. I can imagine putting my hands in the fountain on a hot day, or ducking into the pavilion for a coffee, to watch snow fall on the park in winter. The plan is to keep the park open 365 days a year from 6am-1am.
But is Sister Cities overdone? We’ll have to see how it feels when people start using the park.
“We’re walking a really fine line,” Bryan Hanes acknowledged. He told me this kind of heavy programming is atypical of his work, but the goal here is to attract people. “We’re trying to give this place a job.”
The ribbon will be cut at Sister Cities Park on Thursday at 1pm, and it will officially open Saturday May 12th - LOVE Your Park day - with a day full of family-friendly activities.
Pricetag: $4.6 million
Management: 30-year lease from the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation to Center City District
Partners/Funders: Center City District, Department of Parks and Recreation, Pew Charitable Trusts, William Penn Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, State Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation