Art Commission reviews airport, bridge, parkway, and park projects

Projects in Fairmount Park and on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, an art installation at the airport, and a much-needed reconstruction to replace a long-neglected bridge were on the agenda at Wednesday’s Art Commission meeting. While none of them are city-changers, it’s likely that we’ll all encounter them in our literal and figurative travels.

Take the bridge, a replacement for one at 41st Street, the most deteriorated of three spans that link Parkside to the rest of West Philadelphia. Designers were on hand to follow up on a previous appearance before the Commission and to address questions and concerns posed at that meeting.

They likened their design to elements found at the new South Street bridge, and brought mesh and concrete samples. The project received final approval.

Also returning was Nina Bisbee, facilities vice president at the Philadelphia Zoo, who presented updated plans for a new parking structure. Commissioners discussed the garage’s scale and coloration of red, gray and cream pre-cast concrete, appearing especially confused by the drawings.

Commissioner Emmanuel Kelly suggested that the material would not in actuality be as red as the color print suggested, reminding everyone of how disappointingly pink the Symphony House had turned out. And, at another particularly Kafkaesque moment, Bisbee suggested that the gray cement would be where the ones that “look sort of pink on the drawings are.”

Commissioner Sean Buffington suggested that the plans weren’t that far advanced from the original concept drawings, and the Commission agreed that Bisbee would have to return with more details.

Artist Stacy Levy certainly came armed for her presentation — a proposed 1% For Art installation at the renovated Terminal E of Philadelphia International Airport — with a video that outlined her work, interests, and approach, as well as samples and handouts.

Consisting of three segments, the work will wrap around the south and east walls of the baggage claim area. Levy says that she took as inspiration the way watersheds appear as “silvery ribbons” when viewed from an airplane window as landing approaches. The first component of the piece, then, will echo that feel, with an undulating two- or three-feet wide “river” made from metal discs that move as ambient air hits them.

That segment will morph into a map of the Delaware, made of bluestone and detailed to show how the shape of the river has changed through the ages. The final element of the work is a printed lenticular “pond” that will feature images of waves or ripples designed to showcase the way the Delaware responds to seasons and time.

Commissioner Jose Alminana praised the piece for its use of three materials to interpret the river in three different ways. The project received conceptual approval, with the Commission asking representatives from the applicant, the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, to come back once the technical details of the installation have been worked out.

Penny Balkin Bach, executive director of the Fairmount Park Art Association, next pitched the addition of an 8 1/2-foot bronze sculpture, “Rock Form by Barbara Hepworth, at 17th and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway,” near Friends Select.

Pointing out that Hepworth, who died in 1975, has been frequently cited as the “person who put the hole in contemporary sculpture,” Balkin Bach also noted that Hepworth was great friends with Henry Moore, who is more famous for that style and whose work “Three Way Piece Number 1” sits near this proposed placement.

A third sculpture, “Three Discs, One Lacking,” by Alexander Calder, completes what Balkin Bach said would amount to a “mini-sculpture garden.”

Commission Chair Moe Brooker, noting that the sculpture “invites participation,” asked if its pedestal could be lowered by about a foot, from its proposed 4 1/2-feet. And Alminana tossed out an idea that the sculpture be moved a little so it had more air around it.

Balkin Bach promised to consider both requests, and the proposal received a conceptual go-ahead.

The Commission next considered the second phase of renovations at the Mann Music Center, by MGA Architects.

Responding to the realization by the client that the outdoor terraced seating of the Center is often under-utilized, while the picnic lawn can become overcrowded, this plan calls for removing more than half of the uncovered seats (down from 4,600 to 2,000) to allow for expansion of the lawn.

Architects will also repair some crumbling stairs and remove others. Additionally, the plan proposes adding some new entry gates at the upper lawn of the facility to allow for the possibility of separate concerts and picnicking in that area. The Commission granted the proposals final approval, contingent upon final review by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Contact the reporter at and follow her on Twitter @joanngreco

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