September 12, 2023
To emphasize the importance of expanding Philadelphia's tree canopy, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is opening a public art space at Awbury Arboretum in Germantown.
The Lightning House was built on the remains of a carriage house that dates back to 1783. The space, which opens Friday, Sept. 22, will serve as place for woodworking, leaf-printing and creating drums from fallen trees. PHS also will use it as part of its tree planting and stewardship efforts.
The Lightning House is a product of PHS's S(tree)twork project, which sculpts fallen trees in Awbury Arboretum into percussion instruments used by a drum corp that performs at tree-planting events organized by the organization's Tree Tenders program. A 126-year-old hemlock that fell in Awbury Arboretum serves as its main support beam and was used to create its benches.
Designed by Futurefarmers, an international art collective, the house features a barn door and an angled roof that runs to the ground. Located on the 16-acre Farm at Awbury Arboretum, its creators hope it will inspire people to improve the city's tree cover.
"A fallen tree is essential to regenerating the complex ecosystem around it," Amy Franceschini, founder and lead artist at Futurefarmers, said in a release. "S(tree)twork extends the life of the tree to include the city through the transformation of fallen trees into percussive instruments. Musicians branch out into the community animating tree plantings supported by a volunteer network of PHS Tree Tenders."
The Lightning House gets its name from a wooden drum that James Jacson, of the futuristic jazz band Sun Ra and His Mythic Science Arkestra, created from a tree that was struck by lightning on Morton Street in Germantown.
The art space is one of several initiatives led by the S(tree)twork project, which began in late 2020 and calls attention to the ways people live among trees, perceive them and imagine future cohabitation.
Neighborhoods in North Philly, Southwest Philly and Germantown have the greatest potential to benefit from the health impacts of increased tree coverage, including reduced violence and physical health improvements, according to PHS.
Construction of the Lightning House was informed by a years-long community engagement effort that looked for creative ways to connect people to the city's urban forest. The engagement process included input from the Philly Tree Plan, which cited storytelling, arts and cultural initiatives as possible ways to promote interest in trees.
The Lightning House will open to the public at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 22. Officials from PHS, Awbury Arboretum and the Clean Air Council will join state Sen. Nikil Saval to discuss the importance of improving the city's tree canopy, while artists from S(tree)work will play instruments made from fallen frees and lead block-printing on pieces of wood.