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New Dilworth Plaza space combines park, architecture

Inga Saffron, Inquirer Architecture Critic

Updated: Wednesday, August 20, 2014, 3:59 AM

An aerial view from the Municipal Services Building of the almost-finished Dilworth Park in front of City Hall (WEST Side) as seen Aug. 19, 2014. The park will partially open (about 2/3's) on Sept. 4, 2014. The transportation concourse below the park will be completely open by that date. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

The plan for Dilworth Plaza - to be renamed Dilworth Park - is really two projects rolled into one.

At street level, the goal is to create a welcoming civic space where office workers, tourists, and residents can relax in the shadow of City Hall. Down below will be a big, new waiting room for subway riders.

Some notable features:

To enhance views of City Hall's lavish Beaux-Arts facade, the park was kept uncluttered and largely flat in the center. Like a good neoclassical building, it is symmetrical, with a grass lawn at the north end and a flat water feature at the south.

The park design was overseen by Olin, the same landscape architects who reinvented Manhattan's Bryant Park. Like that Midtown refuge, Dilworth Park is in an office district, and features a lawn where visitors can picnic and enjoy the sun.

Thanks to advances in technology, the fountain will be a flat surface that can become a public gathering space when the water is turned off. Unlike the LOVE Park fountain - which in winter becomes a barren, unusable bowl - Dilworth's becomes an ice rink in winter. The city has struggled for years to model a downtown rink after the one at Rockefeller Center. A version built in the sunken space at 16th and Market Streets in 1958 was shut down in the 1970s.

Embedded in the fountain is an unusual work of public art by Janet Echelman. The serpentine form is meant as an abstract representation of the subways moving deep below the park. Each time a train pulls in, colored light and puffs of mist will pulse along the sinuous path, symbolizing the constant movement of the city's transit infrastructure.

The most notable architectural elements are sure to be two swooping glass "headhouses" that serve as grand entrances to the subways. Designed by KieranTimberlake, they are built of incredibly clear, strong glass, such as the kind used for New York's celebrated Apple store cube on Fifth Avenue.

KieranTimberlake also designed the café at the park's north end. Like the ice rink, it is intended to draw visitors - and ensure that this new park fills with people.

- Inga Saffron

Inga Saffron, Inquirer Architecture Critic

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