- Project Name
- Float Lab
- Höweler+Yoon Architecture
- Project Types
- Project Scope
- New Construction
- 2,760 sq. feet
- Shared by
- Project Status
- On the Boards/In Progress
2018 P/A Awards
“I think it’s very topical, and I think it’s interesting how it addresses the issue of rising tides. I imagine being there with your head just above the water is a powerful experience.” —juror Reto Geiser
Somewhere between the earthy grandeur of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and the eerie acoustic landscapes of Susan Philipsz there is Float Lab, a new educational initiative in Philadelphia from Boston-based Höweler + Yoon Architecture.
On a still largely industrial stretch of the city’s Schuylkill River, a long slender pier extends from the shoreline near idyllic Bartram’s Garden—the country’s oldest surviving botanical garden. At the pier’s furthest end, the supports to the riverbed stop, but the experience does not: a circular curlicue of walkway extends about a third of the way to the opposite shore. From the level of the pier, the path slopes down and, at its eastern end, actually goes below the water level by some 4 feet—a semi-submerged stretch of floating walkway that puts the river’s surface at about chest height. The water is held back by a steel wall that lines the walkway, and the flotation is achieved by a ballast that keeps the steel structure at the river’s surface.
As guests proceed into this uncannily amphibious condition, they are treated to a symphony in the key of Schuylkill, with microphones anchored in the riverbed transmitting the gurgle of the current, the splash of a jumping frog, and other subaqueous noises to speakers inside the promenade structure. Intensifying this encounter with the river and its inhabitants, the aural component is augmented with lights within the loop that track and attract passing fish, drawing them closer to the location of Float Lab visitors.
The objective of this unique exercise in exhibition design is to confront the public in as immediate a manner possible with the ecological reality of the river in their midst: For over two centuries, Philadelphia’s working waterway has been the repository of much of the city’s pollution; in more recent times, it has been the site of intense restoration efforts by local conservation groups. Evidence of both is evident in the area around Float Lab, which brings the river’s complex legacy up close and personal as never before.
Project: Float Lab, Philadelphia
Client: Mural Arts Philadelphia Design
Architect: Höweler + Yoon Architecture, Boston . Eric Höweler, AIA, Meejin Yoon, AIA (principals); Elle Gerdeman, AIA (lead designer); Zach Seibold, Max Jarosz, Gina Ciancone (project team); Alexander Kobald, Valeria Rivera Deneke, Borislav Angelov, William MeKenna (research)
Marine Architect: C.R. Cushing & Co., New York . Brian Streb
Civil Engineer: Urban Engineers
Size: 2,760 square feet
FROM THE ARCHITECTS:
Tides are changing… sort of. Although the public is constantly exposed to issues arising due to our anthropogenic influence, the public has become largely desensitized to facts and figures, removed from the immersive experience of our environment. This educational platform will examine the relationship between environmental science, environmental experience, and environmental stewardship. More specifically, FloatLab asks, can you hear water chemistry; and if you can, could an aesthetic sensory experience change your behavior and attitudes about ecology? Using the site of a polluted urban river system which continues to undergo clean-up efforts from coal mining and other industrial manufacturing by-products, FloatLab proposes to create an environmental installation, to re-experience the river in a completely new way. Programs will include the development of a set of sensory experiments that allow participants and researchers to observe the “invisible” properties of the water, and catalog how the river changes over time through remediation efforts. The resulting design allows the public to experience a significant urban American waterway and its ecology in a manner that ties environmental science to environmental art, and allows us to learn about how perception can influence stewardship.