Art Commission reviews transit, zoo, and school projects

The Philadelphia Art Commission gave final approval today to the first of a three-phase reworking by SEPTA of the concourses and fare entryways of the transportation networks underneath City Hall and Dilworth Plaza, as part of the much larger overall reconstruction of the Plaza.

This phase is limited to the area around the so-called “oculus,” and addresses problems of visibility, accessibility, and drainage. It includes three new elevators, two new fare lines with the installation of new payment technologies, structural repairs and improvements, new finishes and utilities, and support for the greater Center City District project occurring simultaneously upstairs.

Materials and palettes presented skewed to the metallic, with a variety of stainless steel, grillework, and mesh offered as potentials for areas surrounding the new payment systems, attendant booths, and the like. In addition, the presenters offered samples of white porcelain tile to be used for the walls, which would be accented with blue and/or orange to signal entrys to the Broad Street subway and Market-Frankford el.

Commissioners seemed underwhelmed by the choices, with one calling them “old-fashioned,” and others advocating for a greater use of glass to open up the spaces a bit.They also raised questions about the lighting leading down the stairs from Dilworth Plaza and into the concourse, with the presenters demurring that that was part of the CCD bailiwick. A representative from Urban Engineers spoke from the audience and offered that he was pretty sure that lighting would be present in the handrails.

Commissioners still requested that greater details on lighting be submitted, even as it granted final approval.
Another closely-watched Septa project, the reconstruction of the bus loop at 33rd and Dauphin streets, also received Commission approval. Work on the corner lot includes restoration of an existing 110-year-old historic trolley station and the erection of a new adjoining shed, as well as attendant sidewalk repair.

The new shed will replicate as closely as possible an original shed, which is being demolished, in details such as the roof balusterade and in materials such as re-used masonry. Commissioner Emanuel Kelly praised the effort as “one of the best SEPTA projects I’ve seen,” while John Gallery, of the Preservation Alliance, echoed his sentiments and applauded neighbors for committing to and valuing the historic nature of the structure.

“Transit,” but in actuality, parking, was also the topic of discussion for a Philadelphia Zoo project dubbed the Centennial District Intermodal Transportation Center. This multi-departmental (including PWD, Parks and Rec, Streets, etc) effort, years in the planning, concerns the reworking of existing parking lots and access roads, and the construction of an additional parking structure which will provide some 700 more spots.

For this review, which received conceptual approval, the Zoo offered no specifics on design elements such as lighting, paving materials, etc.

The Commission also heard more on the Zoo’s plans to add a treetop trail, and from designers working on an addition to and renovation of the Murrell Dobbins High School in North Philly. The latter project received final approval after members thoroughly kicked around such minutiae as the design of a fencing system that will be installed to support a screening barricade of vines.

It was determined that Commissioner Jose Alminana, a principal at Andropogon Associates, would meet privately with the designers to work out landscaping details. Additionally, the applicants agreed to return before the full Commission to offer more design details on a planned mural which will be installed in the 300-foot corridor that will link the old and new parts of the school.

Contact the reporter at and follow her on Twitter @joanngreco

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