Amid the misty gray of the construction zone in the City Hall courtyard this rainy week, a corridor of color shielded pedestrians from the dangers of heavy equipment and the ugliness of the restoration in progress.
On the north side, a mural by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program that puts a modern spin on the building's history covers the wooden construction fence lining the walkway.
On the south is a 7-foot-tall, 800-foot-long mesh barrier imprinted with pictures of the restoration project interspersed with cheery suns and spring green outdoor scenes. It is the joint work of the mural arts program and Kelly/Maiello Inc., the Philadelphia architectural firm directing construction.
Joan Schlotterbeck, city public property commissioner, said the City Hall restoration, which has been in progress for more than a decade, is scheduled for completion next year. She wanted to liven up the site. "I've always wanted to have some kind of pleasant face when people walk through," she said.
She added that the "positive feedback for this is enormous."
The mural and the mesh artwork together cost $25,000 - $15,000 from the city, and the rest from grants. The cost of the mesh barrier itself was part of the original construction bid.
The mesh, which lead architect Robert Glick said was now common around construction sites in Europe, was printed on a 16-foot-long ink-jet printer at Berry & Homer in Philadelphia. The company also has produced billboard-sized banners for the Kimmel Center and Franklin Institute. The screen is transparent enough to allow pedestrians who concentrate to see shadows of workers and equipment but opaque enough to allow others to focus on the pictures.
The brightly colored mural depicts real modern Philadelphians posed like classic figures on the building along with scenes from city parks. Eric Okdeh, one of the mural artists who designed the piece, said he realized after he took a tour of City Hall how little he had noticed before about the historic building.
"It's something that you walk under and take for granted all the time," he said.
"We wanted to make a fun, sort of interactive mural that would make people take notice of City Hall a little more."
High school students from around the city met at Audenried High School to help paint the mural on parachute cloth. Inmates at Graterford Prison also worked on the project. The finished panels were applied to the wood with a glue called nova gel.
Glick said he had heard passersby muse that the murals would look nice in their backyards. That raises the question of what will become of the art when the construction is complete.
Schlotterbeck said it was the city's property. "We could always auction it off if we wanted," she said.