Bringing the River to the City

Richard Torchia in partnership with Greenhouse Media, provider of multimedia services to the art and culture sector, has just been selected to prepare a signature public art installation for Philadelphia by late spring/early summer 2011.  The installation will be an essential element of the new Race Street Connector, an urban design project that will link the cultural center of Old City to the new Race Street Pier.  Running along the southern side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, the formerly derelict Pier 11 is currently being redesigned to hold  “The Slice,” an inviting green space and public park designed by James Corner Field Operations, architects of the High Line Park in New York.  Along with these plans for a welcome draw on the pier came the need to usher the public through what is perceived as a desolate and unsafe route under several dark, cramped, and noisy I-95 overpasses.  All but blocking access to the water, this easternmost stretch of Race St. contributes to the lack of awareness of Philadelphia as a “river town,” despite the Delaware being only a few minutes walk from the Old City community.

A solution to this detachment is what Torchia and Greenhouse Media offer with their installation, an ambitious and out-of-the-ordinary public art project comprised of a series of 60-foot LED screens mounted on the west-facing sides of the I-95 overpasses.  On these screens, live-feed images of the river’s surface captured by cameras on the pier will run 24-7. Translating the water’s reflective surface into abstracted forms that constantly shift and evolve according to weather, light conditions, boating patterns, and even the whims of the river wildlife, the installation works with – rather than attempts to mask – the sounds of the busy interstate, offering a multi-sensory experience of the river’s activity.   It was a pleasure for me to serve as juror in the selection process for a project that prioritizes both the unique properties of the site and the goals of the greater urban design project – where the Connector brings the city to the river, Torchia and Greenhouse Media reciprocate by bringing the river to the city.

Tyler artists (both students and faculty) interested in joining the City’s Artist Registry to be considered for public art projects like these can apply through Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy.

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