Confluences: the Flows of the Schuylkill

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Model of project proposal for the Schuylkill River Park, Philadelphia
1997-2002 (design study and development)

Materials & Dimensions:
Mica schist, granite, aggregate paving, native trees and grasses, stainless steel fence and railing
(As proposed by model; not in model)
3 feet x 4 1/2 feet x 6 inches (model dimensions)

This project by Winifred Lutz and Stacy Levy was selected in a national competition to design sculpture for the Schuylkill River Park in Philadelphia. Design development was in collaboration with the park’s original landscape architects, The Delta Group. The completion of this project is presently indefinitely postponed.

The proposed site is the area of the Schuylkill River Park beneath and immediately south of the Walnut Street Bridge. We chose the location because it would allow us to demonstrate all the flows which are the substance of the river: the tidal ebb and flow from the Delaware, storm water runoff from the city’s streets and bridges, rainfall, the tributaries. We wanted to peel back the effects of the river’s urban history and re-emphasize the dynamics of the site on the river’s terms.

The Schuylkill is a tidal river. Since the river is constrained by bulkheads as it passes through Philadelphia, the changing water level is not readily apparent. Our design took advantage of a break in the bulkhead along the river to create a terraced inlet that would reveal the 6 feet of tide fluctuation that occurs twice a day. Above the inlet, a sunken copse would collect city storm water drainage. A raised spiral path, which is also a wall, would provide descent into the copse. The pavement around the copse and inlet would be inscribed with the hydrology patterns of the river as it encounters the piers and other obstacles. In fact, the shape of the copse path is an extension of one of these patterns. The topography of the inlet and its transition to the surrounding park pathway is an analog for the transition from the Piedmont to the Coastal Plain. Plantings were to have represented wetlands once typical around the river and the trees found near them. This design also exploited the location of the site just below the Walnut Street Bridge, which allows an aerial view.

Our design would make a social space that brings nature into the play of human activity, paralleling it with the river’s flow, allowing participation in the natural systems of the site. Our project distills the movement of the Schuylkill to form the topography of a place in which to walk, to linger, to reflect. This garden provides an interlude for people to sense where they are and to appreciate the layers of life and forces around them.