OLIN Presents at Design on the Delaware

OLIN Partner Skip Graffam and Landscape Architect Judy Venonsky.

OLIN Partner Skip Graffam and Landscape Architect Judy Venonsky.

OLIN Partner Skip Graffam and Landscape Architect Judy Venonsky were both presenters at AIA Philadelphia’s 10th Annual Design on the Delaware conference. The three day event gives design and building professionals the opportunity to learn about regional projects that are positively influencing the urban condition and stimulate thought and innovation within the design community. Skip presented as part of a panel on the development and implementation of Temple University’s 20/20 Framework Plan, a comprehensive vision for campus development and connection to the community and Center City Philadelphia. Judy and her panel discussed the process behind realizing an art installation designed by famed conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, titled Lines in Four Directions in Flowers.

The Temple University 20/20 Framework Plan proposed a new organization of the campus’ open space and development along Broad Street.

Temple University, a public research institution with the most diverse student body in the nation, is a top employer and economic catalyst for the city of Philadelphia. Despite its prominence, the institution was lacking a sense of community and connection to Center City. Only three years after OLIN, a team of consultants and university stakeholders completed the 20/20 plan, the framework is becoming a reality. The case study presentation described the ambitious, long-range vision for improvements to Temple’s main and health sciences campuses, both located along North Broad Street in Philadelphia.

Although Temple is only a short distance from City Hall–the visual and physical “heart” of Philadelphia’s urban core–the lack of connection and inspiring urban environment along Broad has traditionally made the university feel a world away. Margaret Carney, Associate Vice President for Campus Planning and Design explained, “Temple felt like an outsider from the city. It was missing that vibrancy and energy. Now it’s a different feeling. The campus is no longer Oz in the distance.” OLIN Partner Skip Graffam, explained how up until the 1950s, Broad Street was the campus’ central axis. With eastward growth and development during the 60s and 70s, the campus became disorganized without a unifying character. “This vision was really about increasing density and infill since we needed to stay within the campus’ existing footprint. The landscape and outdoor spaces are the key to providing a better living and learning experience for the students and faculty, engaging the community, and strengthening the connection between Temple and Center City,” Skip stated.


Concept for signature buildings and civic plaza at Broad and Polett Walk, which is now to be Temple’s new library.

Temple 20/20 outlines significant changes to the campus’ physical environment. This includes connecting the scattered green spaces into a cohesive fabric, providing dedicated areas for gathering and student recreation. The proposed centralized quadrangle will create a campus “green heart” that is more fitting for the school’s size while maintaining its urban character. The campus will re-address Broad Street and will include a signature building supported by a civic urban plaza at the intersection of Broad and Polett Walk. To further enliven the campus, new student residences will serve as gateways at the North and South edges along Broad Street.

With two buildings completed and four under construction, the framework has been moving forward with unanticipated speed. In fact, the energy has spread to Temple’s Health Sciences Campus, two miles to the North where a recently completed framework plan looks to improve the urban fabric surrounding the two hospitals and four medical schools.


Aerial view of the finalized art piece, titled “Sol LeWitt: Lines in Four Directions in Flowers.”

OLIN Landscape Architect Judy Venonsky presented with David Fierabend, Principal at Groundswell Design Group, and Adelina Vlas, Assistant Curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art about Sol LeWitt: Lines in Four Directions in Flowers. In 1981, conceptual and minimalist artist Sol LeWitt completed a proposal for a site-specific art piece commissioned by the Fairmount Park Art Association. Some 30 years later, OLIN made his vision a reality under the leadership of Partner Susan Weiler. Although the proposal seemed simple—four garden plots hedged in evergreen to be planted with rows of flowers in four colors (white, yellow, red and blue), the ensuing project was a highly technical and orchestrated effort to faithfully interpret Mr. LeWitt’s instructions.


Sol LeWitt’s original instructions for “Proposal for Fairmount Park” stated, “to plant flowers in four different colors (white, yellow, red and blue) in four equal rectangular areas, in rows of four directions (vertical, horizontal, diagonal, right and left) framed by evergreen hedges of about 2’ height. In winter, the rows of plants would retain their linear direction. In the summer the flowers would provide bloom and provide the color. The types of plants, height, distance apart and planting details would be under the direction of a botanist and the maintenance of a gardener.” (1981).

“His proposal seemed so straightforward—a set of simple directions. But as Sol LeWitt was not a “plants man,” his directive actually left many options open for interpretation,” explained Judy. OLIN’s design team started with a selection of annuals but had trouble finding a truly blue flower. In addition, the art was to be sited on the 17,000 square foot lawn behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the edge of Fairmount Park and the Riley Memorial. The sheer volume of plants and effort warranted the garden lasting more than one season. So the questions became: what perennial species had the right color and height? What combination would provide the correct sequence of bloom? Four to five species were selected for each 4,300 square foot color quadrant equating to over 7,000 total plants. To help determine the sequence of plants’ positioning within each color range, keeping in mind the bloom period of the individual flowers, OLIN utilized the algorithmic computer modeling program Grasshopper. The result was a computer generated, highly ordered but completely randomized planting plan.


OLIN made a full-scale mock up to test the color coding system and plywood template.

Sourcing this large volume of selected species was an operational feat. The order was contract grown under the watchful eyes of OLIN and the team’s landscape contractor Groundswell Design Group. “We didn’t want little baby plants but we also needed them to bloom sequentially so we had to reign in how much the plants were forced at the nursery,” explained David Fierabend, Principal at Groundswell. The team also conducted a full scale mock up to determine how the installation was to be coordinated on site. “When you have 600 boxwoods being delivered by flat bed truck at four in the morning you have to know what you are doing,” said David. “You have to have a plan.” A plywood template and color coding system was devised to spray paint a colored dot that corresponded to a particular species. The system worked beautifully, allowing the whole piece to be completed in 12 days.

Judy was asked how the design managed to bring order and geometry to natural processes, which inherently have a tendency to randomize. She responded, “It really was a transfer of patterns into nature without knowing how it would react. Perennials created an element of risk because unlike a row of tulips, we didn’t quite know how they would look. In the end, we controlled what we could really well and left the rest up to fate.”


Landscape Architect Judy Venonsky (right) with Partner Susan Weiler (left) and Associate Allan Spulecki celebrating the exhibition’s opening day.

Sol LeWitt: Lines in Four Directions in Flowers is truly an exploration of the intersect of art and landscape architecture. As Judy expressed, “Using plants as the medium of expression really pushed the boundaries of this conceptual art to the next level due to the media’s impermanence.” LeWitt gave only enough instruction so that the individual variation in each execution would realize the artwork itself. The nature of plants, perennials, climate, and weather will also help ensure a dynamic result.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>