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June 16, 2023

Shining, 60-foot-tall sculpture proposed along Delaware River at soon-to-be-built Northern Liberties apartments

It will be part of the Rivermark Northern Liberties development plan, which includes 470 apartments and retail space on the riverfront

Arts & Culture Sculpture
Northern Liberties Sculpture Source/PHDC

'River Soundings' is a proposed public art installation at the Rivermark Northern Liberties development at 501 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd. The project would be part of Philadelphia's Percent for Art program.

On the Delaware River waterfront, the Festival Pier site has long been targeted for redevelopment. Years before the concert venue closed in 2019, there had been plans to bring housing and other amenities to this part of Northern Liberties, but delays left the area empty throughout the pandemic.

Construction finally began in December on the new mixed-use complex Rivermark Northern Liberties (formerly named Riverview), at 501 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd. The project by Jefferson Apartment Group and Haverford Properties will include two main buildings with 470 apartments, in total, and multiple retail spaces, including a Sprouts Farmers Market.

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Since this project is being built on land acquired from the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, the development triggers the city's Percent for Art requirement. The project must designate 1% of its overall budget to site-specific, public art administered by the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. 

Details submitted to the PHDC's Public Art Committee last month give a glimpse of what could be coming to the public portion of the riverfront project.

The proposed installation, called "River Soundings," would be a 60-foot-tall sculpture located in a park area in the northeast section of the site, accessible from Spring Garden Street.

Sculpture Delaware RiverSource/PHDC

A daytime rendering of the 'River Soundings' installation.

Art studio Haddad|Drugan's submission says the artwork is meant to resemble "the rippling scintillation of light on the surface of the river," with streaming "lead lines" that represent the depth-finding devices used to determine whether boats were safe to pass through certain parts of the river.

During the daytime, the cylindrical sculpture would tower above the park with a blue, reflective glimmer from sunlight on its discs. At night, LED lights would illuminate the installation in various colors. The artists say it would be visible from the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, along Spring Garden Street and from the New Jersey side of the Delaware River.

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The budget for "River Soundings" is $1.1 million, which includes money for bronze sculptures that would be built around the main installation. The primary material for the sculpture would be stainless steal, and portions of it would be etched with words telling historical information about the site and the Delaware River.

Although a timeline has not been set for the completion of Rivermark Northern Liberties, the proposed timeline for the sculpture installation is by the fall or winter of 2024. It must first be approved by the Philadelphia Art Commission before work begins. 

The Rivermark Northern Liberties complex, once finished, also will be surrounded by the Delaware River Trail.

Rivermark Northern LibertiesSource/Haverford Properties

A rendering of the Rivermark Northern Liberties development.

Map Northern LibertiesSource/PHDC

A map of the Rivermark Northern Liberties development.

The development is in an area that's undergoing a boom of residential construction, including a 466-unit project planned at the former Greyhound bus terminal across the street. To the north, at 918 Delaware Ave., a 462-unit project is in the works and comprised of six new buildings. The former Philadelphia Warehousing & Cold Storage building, known for its American flag mural on an exterior wall, also is expected to be converted into a series of residential projects.

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More broadly, the project is one of several large-scale efforts to reactivate the riverfront in Philadelphia. Construction is underway on the 11.5-acre park that will cap I-95 at Penn's Landing. The former PECO station along the banks of the river in Fishtown is being revived as The Battery, a mixed-use project that will create offices and apartments at the century-old plant. And looking further into the future, a large stretch of the waterfront will be transformed by a $2.2 billion redevelopment with multiple buildings planned north of Penn's Landing.