Philadelphia is a city steeped in history. Being one of the oldest cities in the country, from corner to corner, there was a ‘lived in’ feel that only a city that has been around a few hundred years could display. Although the city itself is not considered to be a Rust Belt city, the surrounding areas are the city are highly industrialized to the point where there is a mini rust belt surrounding Center City. The neighborhoods around the center city area were quite beautiful with townhomes just minutes from the vibrant urban core. The walkability and proximity were excellent and great public transit was always just around the corner. As expected in Philadelphia, the food, although rather expensive in Center City, was delicious especially the Philly Cheese Steaks. The weather, not so much, as it was cold and wet for half of the trip but picked up towards the end. All of these factors have fundamentally shaped the city for better or for worse as its industrial past and current practices paired with outdated civil infrastructure presented challenges the environment and to stormwater retention and overflow.
Throughout the trip, we were able to visit multiple landscape architecture practices that were taking different approaches to tackling some of those environmental challenges in the Philadelphia region and beyond. It was very enlightening to see many of the processes we learned in class being implemented and having a positive impact on local stormwater retention and environmental remediation. The firms that we visited were NBW, Andropogon, Olin, and WRT. Each firm varied in size, design approach, and clientele. Nelson Byrd Woltz (NBW) was the first firm we toured. Their main office is actually in Charleston Virginia which was a stop on the way North to Philadelphia from our trip start in Knoxville. As a mid-sized practice with two main offices in Charleston and New York, NBW specializes in civic/ public park master planning and design as well as conservation agriculture, the practice of remediating landscapes and designing them for sustainable production of food and other crops. NBW is a multidisciplinary practice of landscape architects, ecologists, environmental scientists that work to understand the landscape as the micro to macro scales and know that remediation is a long process that can often take decades to take root.
The Second firm on our trip was Andropogon, whose start was very similar to that if NBW, as a small practice of environmental-minded practitioners working toward a sustainable future. The name of their firm is derived from a grass that is known to thrive in disturbed areas of the landscape. Their practice works to embody those characteristics as many urban landscapes are highly disturbed areas. Andropogon invests heavily in research as well as design as they believe it is important to monitor and follow sites long after their construction is complete to understand if their design is functioning as intended. This allows the firm to make course corrections before issues compound over time. The data and research collected are used to inform current and future design work by the firm.
Olin and WRT were both larger firms and both had more of a corporate feel to them. Their work was slightly more diverse and ranged from the public and private sectors than that of NBW and Andropogon as their firms had more resources and employees. Olin overlooks Independence Hall which is where the Liberty Bell, among other historical memorials, is located. Their practice believes in rebuilding by design which is evident many of their projects like Mill River Park and the 11th Street Bridge which is connecting DC communities. WRT is a firm that started as a landscape architecture and urban design practice that quickly branched into architecture and planning. As a multidisciplinary practice, their work ranged from urban renewal projects like Steel Stacks Art and Cultural Campus to large scale master planning like the Baltimore Inner Harbor.
The projects that we got to see were the Navy Yards Master planned by MVVA, Central Green and Race Street Pier designed by Field Operations, 1200 Intrepid by BIG Architects, Shoemaker Green by Andropogon, and Barnes Foundation by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. Both of the architecture and landscape architecture we were able to see were very impressive! Shoemaker Green and Central Green were projects that not only ingaged local physical activity, like running and soccer, but also environmental performance metrics like stormwater retention and increased ecological biodiversity. 1200 Intrepid and Barnes Foundation were architectures that allowed for gathering, gallery, and office space.