A Pearl Street makeover is DesignPhiladelphia 2015’s kickoff

A view of "Frames" on Pearl Street Passage. Photo by Alaina Mabaso.

DesignPhiladelphia kicks off a week of panels, workshops, and exhibitions with a temporary installation, Pearl Street Passage. The 1100 block of Pearl Street, a narrow byway just north of Vine, has been transformed by ten teams made up of landscape architects, designers, artists, and fabricators. The teams, mostly working together for the first time, took their assigned stretch of Pearl Street and collaborated on projects responding to this year’s theme, SHIFT.

“We kept the parameters loose,” said Nova Harris, program manager for DesignPhiladelphia. “The teams responded to whatever ‘shift’ meant to them.”

The block of Pearl Street that the teams transformed is under the Reading Viaduct, which is finally moving ahead on the project to transform it into an elevated park. The Friends of the Rail Park, which has already raised $4 million of the $8.6 million needed to complete the first quarter mile of the park, is one of the sponsors of the Pearl Street Passage.

Several of the teams responded more or less directly to the adjacent rail park. “Periscope Tower” leads the viewer’s eye up a planted structure to an angled mirror at the level of the tracks, providing a glimpse of the overgrown space that will become a park. “Savage Salvage” deals with post-industrial spaces more systematically: Plantings in salvaged Tastykake mixing bowls illustrate the changes in successive stages of plant life in areas that have been used, then abandoned, by humans.

Another team took “shift” to refer to a shift in perspective. In their work, “Frames,” they created four different viewing posts in the form of furniture pieces in skewed scales, each aligned to a canvas screen with a viewing hole cut out of it. The fabricators on this project, the Wilmington-based Challenge Program, work with at-risk youth; the structures were built by participants in their new furniture program. (The canvas for the screens was recycled from the sails of the Kalmar Nyckel, the Wilmington-based tall ship docked near the Challenge Program’s workshop.) The designers on that project came from Scout Ltd., perhaps best known for the controversial Le Bok Fin pop-up in South Philly.

As part of a longer-term effort dubbed the Pearl Street Project,  Asian Arts Initiative, one of the sponsors of the Passage, wants to transform four blocks of Pearl Street, from 10th to Broad, as an outdoor gallery and public gathering space. These installations provide an intriguing glimpse at the sorts of things that are possible.

The Pearl Street Passage, on the 1100 block of Pearl Street in Philadelphia’s Callowhill neighborhood, is free and open to the public, 10am to 10pm on Saturday October 10 and 10am to 5pm on Sunday October 11. More information here.

The weeklong DesignPhiladelphia continues through October 16, with events geared toward design professionals, community advocates, fans of design, and others. A full list of events, many of them free, can be found here

At right: "Periscope Tower." Photo by Alaina Mabaso.