The Saucer and the Fountain(s) Will Live on at New LOVE Park

Hargreaves and Associates, KieranTimberlake and Parks & Rec show off LOVE Park's lively and green redesign.
All rendering via Hargreaves and Associates

The All New LOVE Park | All rendering via Hargreaves and Associates

If there is one major thing to take away from the newly released designs for LOVE Park, it’s this: They listened. They being lead designers Hargreaves and Associates, who along with KieranTimberlakeParks and Recreation and the Fairmount Park Conservancy reimagined the iconic gateway to the Parkway as a place with both active and passive spaces that allow for visitors to experience Philadelphia in a special way. “It’s a major step,” said Mary Margaret Jones, President and Senior Principal of Hargreaves and Associates, of the resulting design. “It fits now.”

The design is a culmination of five public meetings and over 2,000 public comments, according to Mark Focht, First Deputy Commissioner of the of Parks and Recreation. Throughout the process, there were four main themes, which Focht summed up as save the Saucer, make it green, throw a lot of water in the air (“People love the water jets.”) and keep diagonal sight lines and create better access through the park. Let’s take a peek at how they accomplished these four goals.

The Saucer (Fairmount Park Welcome Center):

The big news is that the iconic Saucer will be saved. Richard Maimon, Partner at KieranTimberlake, said the group was “absolutely well aware” of the cultural significance of the building, noting that the original form–essentially a glowing lantern built five years before the park in 1960–had a sense of optimism towards Center City during a time of urban decline. As the single pane windows became more and more inefficient over time, Maimon said darker film was placed over the glass and the Fairmount Park Welcome Center, its official name, became “dark and unwelcoming.” It will be very public, open and bright.

Given that the building is structurally sound, KieranTimberlake will strip it down to its beautiful circular core and replace all the outdated systems to bring it up to speed with today’s standards. That includes the installation of a green roof. Maimon called it a “reinterpretation” and mentioned it was important to remember that it wasn’t a literal historic restoration. There will be a visitor’s element to it (probably a kiosk), but the main function will provide food and beverage options that bring people to the park and keep them there. An ADA compliant ramp will make it more accessible and there will be public restrooms at park level. to further enhance the experience at the Saucer and the park itself, there will be seating inside, on the terrace and at ground level on the new pavers. The new glass and balcony will provide outstanding views of the park and also of the bustling city. “When all is said and done, it’s going to have a relationship to the park, and the the park to it, that have never existed before,” said Maimon.

The food truck space will be moved over to 15th and Arch, giving the park two distinct places for those looking for a bite to eat. “You can imagine different destinations within the park,” said Jones. KieranTimberlake will also being designing a new head house on 15th Street, which Jones called “a beautiful glass box” that has an elevator going down into the parking garage.

Green Space:

You wanted more access to green space–you got it in the form of plantings, trees and two lawn areas that will be perfect for lounging, a picnic, playtime and maybe even a concert or event. Jones said they wanted to make it “the square”–a place where democracy, respite, recreation and history intertwine in the heart of the city. There will be places to sit near the fountain and even the possibility for moveable lawn chairs placed throughout the two green spaces, not unlike those seen at Harvard Yard.

Water Features:

You wanted to keep the geyser-like fountain–you got it. What’s more, the cumbersome basin will be removed and you’ll (legally) be able to walk up and interact with the water, which will fall directly onto the pavement. In fact, the team did you one better with the addition of a new set of interwoven fountain arcs that will dance at the base of the taller jet fountain. Yeah, kids are going to love running through those on a hot summer day. We bet some adults will as well.

Jones also noted that wind sensors will be installed in the main fountain and will regulate its height during windy days, going so far as to turn it off during heavier times. Folks will be able to sit nearby and watch the display. They’ll also go up and touch it.

Possibly the coolest thing about the new water feature, which Focht called the “Bird’s Nest,” is how it will enhance the experience of the LOVE statue itself. Focht said the nest will be visible behind the famed work of art, but will actually block the cars on the Parkway, thus softening up one of Philadelphia’s most recognizable views.

Diagonal Sight Lines and Access:

One of the more interesting notions about LOVE Park is that it’s a gateway of sorts to the Parkway, both in sight and in access. Physically, that’s certainly true. Sight lines offer tremendous views straight through to the iconic Art Museum. However, its current design makes access a different story. Due to the basin of the fountain and its near eight-foot change in elevation from JFK to Arch Street, the path through the park is winding, stepped down and kind of clunky. Focht said they wanted to facilitate a movement though the park that wasn’t simply a straight line.  The new design will gradually flow from the LOVE statue, through the fountain and lawn area and down towards 16th and Arch to create an ease of access to the Parkway that doesn’t currently exist.

Public Art:

The project will require a new public art installation under the Percent for Art program through the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE). Focht said there is $230,000 to commission a new piece and they have whittled down over 100 artist applications to five. Artist will present their new ideas in May. Don’t worry, it won’t compete with the LOVE statue. “We don’t want an object or a sculpture,” said Focht. While “everything is open,” they want to play off of elements that make up the new park, think light, sound, water and air.

Timeline:

The designs go before the Art Commission on Wednesday, May 6. Jones said there will be a public presentation in late June where they will present the materials and “richness” of the development overall and how the art is integrated into the project. The final presentation to the Art Commission will be in September and the 12 to 16 month construction timeline could start as early as spring 2016.

Previous LOVE Park Coverage [PhillyMag]

• Designers show Saucer some LOVE [PlanPhilly]