Lenfest Plaza Opens at PAFA
OLIN recently celebrated the official opening of Lenfest Plaza at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The plaza was created by closing a 220 foot length of Cherry Street just north of Philadelphia’s City Hall. In doing so, a true campus was made for the Academy, linking the newly refurbished Hamilton Building with the historic Furness-Hewitt Building.
In creating an institutional plaza for public enjoyment, performance and exhibition within the dense historic and cultural district of Center City Philadelphia, OLIN Partner David Rubin designed an environment that many people can now experience: the administration, faculty and students of the Academy; guests of the new restaurant to be situated within the plaza; museum goers and art lovers; Philadelphians, and visitors to the City.
Rubin’s design includes a carpet of pavers comprised of a random pattern of precast concrete with colors inspired by the Furness-Hewitt Building’s handsome Cherry Street façade, which runs the length of the plaza.
In addition, a long bench comprised of three parts is built from sustainably harvested black locust. The oversized curvilinear bench, invites patrons to sit on either side—to socialize and enjoy the plaza from various perspectives. The re-curving form is like a three-dimensional brush stroke running the length of the plaza, connecting Paint Torch, a 51-foot tall sculpture by Claes Oldenburg, to an elliptically shaped temporary sculpture platform. With LED lighting under the front edge of the bench, a path of light sweeps through the plaza at nighttime.
Designers addressed the site’s infrastructure issues in creative ways, like capping the vents of a passing subway line with a platform made of sustainably harvested black locust wood that can be used for performances, speeches or as a bench. The resolution of this infrastructural challenge was founded on OLIN’s fundamental belief that a great public space serves everyone equally—in this case, a variety of seating options, opportunities to see and be seen, and flexible program space are key to the success and population of a great civic space.
As an entire composition, Lenfest Plaza at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts unifies art and people in a civic environment that allows both to thrive. It acts as a gesture that unites a campus and links significant institutions as an urban whole, offering people from a variety of life experiences to engage in a manner that promotes positive social interaction. As an institution with works by leading American artists that has always been a leader in the education of fine arts, Rubin’s design for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ Lenfest Plaza firmly establishes the institution as a center and a threshold, all while strengthening the culture and social sustainability of the City of Philadelphia.