Philadelphia’s postindustrial Schuylkill River is undergoing something of a building boom; megaprojects such as PAU’s JFK Towers and the multibillion-dollar Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia expansion promise to bring thousands of residents and workers to that formerly neglected stretch. Now, in a welcome shift, greater attention is also being paid to public parks along the riverfront, and the Höweler + Yoon Architecture-designed FloatLab will provide a wholly unique means to engage with the Schuykill.
The installation will be located adjacent to Southwest Philadelphia’s Bartram’s Garden, the oldest surviving botanical garden in North America, and is the latest initiative from public arts organization Mural Arts Philadelphia. Colored lime-green, the ring-shaped islet will be accessed by a nearby pier and gangway, as the name suggests, float over natural tidal wetlands. An ADA-compliant ramp loops around the installation and will submerge approximately four feet to provide a nearly eye-level perspective of the river from behind the curved steel wall. Tides rise and fall, and Höweler + Yoon’s design, in collaboration with naval engineer C.R. Cushing, includes eight ballast chambers and tethered anchor piles at the riverbed to keep the whole thing level.
Measuring 75-feet in diameter, the installation will host a number of uses such as living laboratories, remediation workshops, and enough space for elementary and high school outings. Visitors will also be treated to a near symphonic experience as microphones located at the riverbed transmit the ballet of aquatic life below and the rolling current above to a system of speakers embedded within the promenade. Additionally, a series of tie-down cleats located across the exterior walls will allow for the mooring of kayaks and other such light craft.
The Schuylkill River is notorious for its former flammability, but nighttime luminescence in this circumstance will stem from the installation’s own lighting display. The project is not Höweler + Yoon’s first rodeo with the Schuylkill, and, as noted by the Philly Voice, their 2010 lighting installation Light Drift brought thousands of viewers to engage with the riverbank.
FloatLab is partially funded by the William Penn Foundation and is scheduled to open in Fall of 2022.