Penn Design ‘After Oil’ exhibit moves to Center for Architecture

By Thomas J. Walsh
For PlanPhilly

After rave reviews from conference attendees and hundreds of design students, the Penn Institute for Urban Research on Monday moved a portion of its first-ever graphic exhibition to the AIA Philadelphia Center for Architecture.

Designed to accompany last week’s “Re-imagining Cities: Urban Design After the Age of Oil,” a symposium co-sponsored with the Penn School of Design and the Rockefeller Foundation, the exhibit mixes historical perspectives with current thinking, interactive surveys and conceptual, speculative designs for environmentally sound urban planning. It addresses issues of architecture, landscape architecture, physics, engineering and economics.

Amy Montgomery, Penn IUR’s associate director, said that at least 500 people and as many as 1,000 viewed the exhibit, which featured solar-powered lighting with videos and placards mounted on boards made of recyclable materials. Several “voting” stations featured clear tubes piling up large marbles in lieu of ballots.

The exhibit, free and open to the public, was open from Thursday afternoon through late Saturday on the ground floor of Meyerson Hall. It will be at the Center for Architecture’s new space at 1218 Arch Street through Friday (Nov. 14).

“Just from the verbal feedback we’ve received, the people loved it,” said Montgomery, who helped Penn IUR curator Maritza Mercado to prepare and install the show. “There were a lot of students there, many of them taking notes for projects they were doing.”

Montgomery said this inaugural exhibit will give Penn IUR the confidence for future efforts. “I think the subject of this conference was particularly well-suited for an exhibition,” she said. “It’s design in nature and allowed us to sort of scan the whole world, really, of sustainability projects. In the future, we’d look for something similar that could be well represented graphically.”

The exhibit included “The City,” the seminal 1939 documentary film by the late urban historian, author and critic Lewis Mumford, with dramatic music by Aaron Copland accompanying Mumford’s dark editorial on the industrialized cities of the early 20th century.

Mumford was an attendee at a conference 50 years ago, also sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, which was the inspiration for the “After Oil” symposium. Though only national in scope, the lineup of those who took part was impressive. Among them were Jane Jacobs, I.M. Pei, G. Holmes Perkins, Catherine Bauer Wurster, Louis I. Kahn and others (see slide show, above). Only two of the attendees of that 1958 conference are still alive, and one of them was at Penn last weekend for “After Oil:” Grady Clay, a journalist and urban design critic.

Wednesday event at AIA
The exhibit will be on view Wednesday evening (Nov. 12), when Penn IUR co-hosts “Leading Cities to Sustainability: A Conversation with National and Local
Leaders” with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society at the Center for Architecture (5:30 p.m.; RSVP to

Guests include officials and innovators from other cities “who have successfully implemented multi-faceted, citywide sustainability programs,” and focus on leadership, strategies for engaging communities and individuals, mobilizing private sector investment and institutional change. The guests are:

• Marty Blum, the mayor of Santa Barbara, Calif. and co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Sustainable Development Taskforce
• George Hawkins, director of the Washington, D.C. environmental department
• Karis Hiebert, manager of the city of Vancouver’s Sustainability Group
• Mark Alan Hughes, Philadelphia’s director of sustainability
• Ariella Rosenberg Maron, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning & Sustainability in New York City

J. Blaine Bonham Jr., executive vice president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, will moderate the discussion.

The event also serves as the official launch of Penn IUR’s latest publication, “Growing Greener Cities: Urban Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century,” a collection of essays on sustainable city building.

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