The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

May 01, 2012

Inside Janet Echelman's Dilworth Plaza art commission

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

The 2012 Knight Foundation's Philadelphia Arts Challenge has awarded a $400,000 grant to Center City District to construct the innovative public artwork of artist Janet Echelman to help transform historic Dilworth Plaza  (Philadelphia City Hall) into a focal point for the city’s thriving downtown.  Echelman created "Pulse", an artwork inspired by the site’s historic association transportation, water, and steam. The site served as the city’s Centre Square Water Works in the 1800s, and in the next century was expanded with land from the Pennsylvania Railroad, which had used steam-powered trains.

Echelman’s art will be embedded in the new plaza’s 11,600-square foot fountain and will trace above ground in real time the paths of the three subway lines below. Described by the artist as “a living X-ray of the city’s circulatory system”, the work creates moving 4-foot-tall curtains of mist, which glow at night when illuminated by multiple layers of colored light. The artwork aims to physically and psychologically transform the way people view the city’s central square and enter its public transit system. The integration of the art was made possible through collaboration with the site’s outstanding design team.

For Philadelphia, Echelman wanted to focus on the city’s Industrial history, which she felt was not as widely known as its Federalist history yet worthy of attention. Video courtesy of OLIN and Studio Echelman

Janet founded Studio Echelman to create public art that generates "sense of place" and creates a communal urban experience. Her permanent and temporary projects draw inspiration from ancient and industrial craft and bring them together with digital technology. The results are accessible, dynamic public artworks that respond to the forces of nature — wind, water, light, and people.  Echelman’s work has been credited with revitalizing urban spaces like waterfronts (She Changes in Porto, Portugal, and Water Sky Garden, which premiered at the Vancouver Winter Olympics), airports (Every Beating Second at San Francisco International Airport’s new Terminal Two), and even downtown areas (Her Secret is Patience at Phoenix Civic Space, which received the Bruner Medal for Urban Excellence).

The project is described in Echelman's TEDtalk (below) which has been translated into 33 languages and is estimated to have been viewed by more than a million people worldwide.

Video below by videographer Andrew Sachs

Post courtesy Studio Echelman

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