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

Aug 24, 2012

Janet Echelman’s sculpture will be a font of information

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Linda Harris, Center City Philadelphia

Janet Echelman’s columns of atomized water that are featured in her public sculpture Pulse will be more than beautiful and imaginative public art once the $50 million transformation of Dilworth Plaza is completed in 2014.  The unique artwork will communicate in real time the comings and goings of three transit lines that pass beneath Dilworth Plaza, on the west side of City Hall.

The five-foot-tall, moving columns of atomized water will reflect the designated colors of SEPTA’s three transit lines that carry workers, residents and visitors throughout the city via the City Hall transit hub. Making transit visible, the colorized mist will rise from thin tubes embedded within the fountain in the curving patterns of the tracks below, moving across the surface of the fountain in real time, using a data feed from the train lines underground.

Three underground transit lines converge beneath Dilworth Plaza. Janet Echelman’s sculpture Pulse reflects this with coordinated color and movement.

For example, orange LED lights will signify the arrival and departure of SEPTA’s Broad Street, or Orange Line, that travels from the Fern Rock Transportation Center in North Philadelphia to the AT&T Station in South Philadelphia near the sports stadiums. The Orange Line is a north-south artery used by not only hundreds of thousands of sports fans every year, but also by students commuting  to Central High School and Girls High, two of the most respected high schools in the Philadelphia region, and located at the north end of the Orange Line.

The Market–Frankford, or Blue Line, is a convenient line that stretches from North Philadelphia south to the famous Historic District of Liberty Bell fame, where it turns west, passing through the City Hall station  and travels to the 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby, Pa. It is also referred to as the EL, as it is partially underground and partially elevated.

The third line, the Subway–Surface Trolley Lines, or Green Line, opened in 1906 and includes five routes that branch from two trunks, one that begins in North Philadelphia and another that starts at the east side of City Hall. From there, these two trunks divide into five well-traveled routes that also end at 69th Street in Upper Darby, providing transportation for students at the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, as well as for many workers.

Commissioned by the Center City District, Echelman’s work will be integrated into Dilworth Plaza’s new, 11,600-square-foot fountain. Her unique sculpture will create both a playful and animated embellishment on the fountain, identifying this site as a transportation hub at the center of a regional system that brings 300,000 passengers into Center City each day. The installation of Pulse will ensure that the $50 million transformation of Dilworth Plaza will become a memorable public space, thanks to support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The $400,000 grant to the Center City District, which will support the installation of Echelman’s sculpture, is part of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Knight Arts Challenge, a $9 million initiative funding innovative projects that engage and enrich Philadelphia’s communities.

Construction on Dilworth Plaza began in January 2012, and will be completed in 2014. The 2.5-acre site will be transformed from an inaccessible, multi-level, unattractive, hard-surface plaza into a sustainable, well-maintained, green public space with no stairs or barriers from the street. The new plaza will have a large lawn, tree groves, a programmable fountain showcasing Echelman’s artwork, and a café with outdoor seating.

The Center City District, a private-sector organization dedicated to making Center City Philadelphia clean, safe and attractive, is committed to maintaining Center City’s competitive edge as a regional employment center, a quality place to live, and a premier regional destination for dining, shopping and cultural attractions.

Find us at, Facebook, and Twitter @ccdphila. For photos, videos, and more information about Dilworth Plaza and Janet Echelman’s artwork, please click here.

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