The design story behind the new light garden at the Spring Garden El stop

It’s public art, and it’s been in the works for years.

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Matt Stanley

The walk from Festival Pier to the Spring Garden El stop at night used to be a dark one. Not anymore, though.

The street improvements at the stop between Second and Front streets feature a light installation so striking that it hits the eye as more than nice urbanism — it’s public art.

The project, implemented by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation and the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association, cost $2.4 million in a patchwork of grants. The Spring Garden Street Connector looks similar at first glance to the one on Race Street, which guides pedestrians along the I-95 underpass. But this one is powered by a prismatic light installation that, according to its designers at the Lighting Practice,follows the cycle of the sun as it rises and sets each day.”

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Matt Stanley

Technical engineering firm NV5 led the design team. The metal panels that cover the lights have a leafy design that were inspired by the street’s name, according to PlanPhillywhich detailed that construction was underway back in July. They were designed by Cloud Gehshan and made in an old Progresso factory in South Jersey, now the HQ for Urban Sign. Liz Ruff, an account manager at Urban Sign, said translating the garden-inspired designs was tough.

“It’s one idea to come up with them as a concept, it’s another thing to have that flow as a pattern and repeat itself,” she said.

For example, the light shines through “hundreds and hundreds” of holes, with the leaf shapes visible in the negative (unperforated) spaces. Cloud Gehshan “wanted the holes to be varying. In artwork that’s easy,” said Ruff. To fabricate that, every opening had to be adjusted. “I think the design firm touched each hole on that project.”

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NV5, Cloud Gehshan Associates, and DRWC

Colored beams also come through hanging, wavy, metal sheets— Ruff called these “clouds”— also bearing the leaf design. The stop has new sidewalks and streetscape upgrades to make getting to and front the waterfront safer.

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