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Sister Cities Park at Logan Square
Philadelphia, Pa.

by Allie Lapporte

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

Located in Logan Square, a historic site in Philadelphia, Sister Cities Park is a multi-use, multi-generational park that offers both residents and tourists a space to relax and explore. Reimagined by Studio | Bryan Hanes, the park serves several purposes with educational features and natural play spaces. Statues of Thomas Fitzsimons, an American merchant and statesman of Philadelphia, and William Penn stand in the park.
Photo credit: Halkin Mason Photography

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

A small Cypress bridge helps visitors avoid the water from the nearby Wissahickon Creek that was diverted down a hill and into the play area, though some explorers may opt to forgo it, choosing to use the 118-foot stream as a path instead. The creek water runs through the park and is treated and recirculated.
Photo credit: Studio | Bryan Hanes

In 2010, officials in the city of Philadelphia focused on renovating the area surrounding the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. They planned for new museums, a new landscape and a new iteration of Sister Cities Park. The park, which was originally dedicated in 1976 in recognition of Philadelphia's commitment to the international sister cities program, occupies a piece of Logan Square, one of William Penn's original five squares of Philadelphia. Landscape architectural firm Studio | Bryan Hanes was called upon to renovate the space alongside the other modernizations happening in the area.

Several years ago, an interstate highway was built in the city, cutting just adjacent to the park, and parking lots were built on the other side. Principal Bryan Hanes, RLA, ASLA, commented, "It was kind of a forlorn space, sort of the edge of the world." The firm was asked to add some kind of programming to the space.

To get ideas brewing, they spoke with some of the institutions surrounding the site. There is a natural history museum, a science museum, a design school, a church and the city's main public library all in the area. The program that the designers landed on was made up of three pieces.

The City of Sisterly Love
The first piece of the park is the main plaza area. The existing plaza had become rather worn and beat up since it first opened in the 70s. It was supposed to represent Philadelphia's relationship with its sister cities; however, out of ten cities, only two were represented anywhere in the space.

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

Studio | Bryan Hanes designed a water feature to offer a fun way for kids to cool down as well as a way to learn about the city of Philadelphia. Each water jet has the name of a city etched beside it, representing one of Philadelphia's sister cities. The benches surrounding the fountain were made from stone salvaged from the original park site.
Photo credit: Barrett Doherty

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

The 6,700 square-foot Children's Discovery Garden located within in the 55,000-square-foot Sister Cities Park creates a nature-based play space for children who may not have many chances to get out of the city. Photo credit: Halkin Mason Photography

Hanes stated that they took the concept of sister cities as the introductory bluster to get people interested in coming to the park. According to Sister Cities International, the city-to-city relationship program was introduced by President Eisenhower in 1956. He believed that people from different cultures could understand, appreciate and celebrate their differences while building partnerships that would lessen the chance of new conflicts. Recognizing the importance of these ideals, the designers at Studio | Bryan Hanes wanted to mix Philadelphian pride with a respect for the different cultures of the sister cities as well, truly representing the ideals of the City of Brotherly Love.

"We redesigned the plaza with a water feature that represented all of the cities that were part of this international relationship. We also used a lot of the stone that had originally made up that plaza to make new benches and other seating areas around it," Hanes explained. The water feature is interactive, allowing children to play and splash around while parents can sit and keep watch.

However, the water feature is not only fun; it also educates visitors about Philadelphia's sister cities, properly signifying a rich history of international ties. Hanes informed, "We have all of the cities' names etched into the surface of the plaza, and the names are written in English as well as the cities' native languages; they are identified in miles and kilometers from Philadelphia." To make sure that no location goes without recognition, each of the cities has a fountain jet associated with it.

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

As seen in this plan for the interactive fountain in the park, the water feature displays the name of each sister city sandblasted into the surface at different depths and widths, along with their distances from the park in both miles and kilometers. The lettering for the distances is 1/6" deep. The circular lines and the straight lines of the arrows pointing from Philadelphia to the various sister cities are 3/4" wide and 1/16" deep.
Photo credit: Studio | Bryan Hanes

Sit Down to Business
The second piece of the space that the firm designed is the seating area for the then newly-built cafA(C) building in Logan Square. The site is right next to Philadelphia's central business district, and Studio | Bryan Hanes designed the area to entice workers to walk to the park for lunch.

This would benefit the cafA(C) owners, as they could access customers that might not make it to the building for lunch without some incentives in the form of a green space, as well as the workers themselves. Research from the National Recreation and Parks Association shows that office workers who spend time outside during the work day are happier and more productive.

Hanes explained, "We saw it as a way to get people to come down at their lunch hour, get them out of the towers. We hoped that they would sit in the park, have business meetings there, that kind of thing."

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

Local boulders make for play structures in the Children's Discovery Garden, transporting city kids to the wild forest while still in view of the library, memorial statues and mom and dad. This detail shows the deliberate placement of the boulders, as they are layered on top of planting soil and aggregate.

Wild Spaces
The third part of the park is the Children's Discovery Garden, which is a nature-based play space, or as Hanes tends to refer to it, "a pile of rocks and dirt." According to Hanes, "The original thought was that you've got these kids that are kind of bound up in the museums and in the library. Before you take them home or put them in the car and drive off, there's a space for them to kind of unwind, run around, get a little bit dirty."

Sister Cities Park is part of a bigger context, as it is the beginning of the larger Fairmont Park. Fairmont is one of the country's largest parks. However, Sister Cities is slightly more urban. Studio | Bryan Hanes decided to take some of the wild spaces that city kids cannot always access and put them into the Children's Discovery Garden.

Going Native
Wissahickon Creek, a tributary of the Schuylkill River, runs through part of the park, so the designers took some inspiration from the natural water feature. The firm developed a stream that comes from the top of a nearby hill, which is about 9 feet tall, and it flows down the hill into the discovery garden in a series of little water falls.

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

The park's centralized location off Benjamin Franklin Parkway, between the business district and Fairmont Park, surrounded by museums and institutions - such as the Franklin Institute, the Parkway Central Library and the Academy of Natural Sciences - makes it a convenient stop for a variety of visitors. Photo credit: Studio | Bryan Hanes

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

The Logan Square CafA(C) seating area serves both office workers from the nearby towers and the tourists who want to refresh and rest from walking the city while their kids play in the creek basin. The area is shaded by a green roof planted with native grasses and shrubs including Rhus aromatica, Panicum virgatum, Sporoblus heterolepsis and Sedum 'Autumn Joy.' Photo credit: Halkin Mason Photography

The water runs under a small bridge and dumps out into a boat basin of sorts, which can be used for wading, splashing or sailing toy boats. "The idea was to represent that piece of the native landscape," explained Hanes.

The area was planted with native plants, which are all defined by small signs so that visitors can have some connection to the land and understand where all the plants come from. There are no play structures or manufactured items for kids to climb on. The firm chose a few logs found in the greater Fairmont Park area, as well as some local boulders to serve as the play pieces. Hanes wanted to create a natural landscape that children could embrace and enjoy.

Digging Up History
Hanes identified a few challenges in the design process for Sister Cities Park. "This was a space that the city had never seen before, so there was some hesitation and curiosity about that," he explained. However, the bigger challenge came when construction started on the project. As they started digging, they found bodies. A couple hundred years ago, many of Philadelphia's squares had served as potter's fields or church burial grounds.

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

Park visitors can rent sailboats from the rental station located inside the Logan Square CafA(C) to play with in the park's basin. Toy boating competitions are held in the park during summer months. Photo credit: Barrett Doherty and Studio | Bryan Hanes

Sister Cities Park at Logan Square

According to Hanes, there were no available records or documentation for any of the grave sites, so it was not until they started excavation on the site that the remains began to turn up. "We had about a year-long delay and went through an archeological process, identifying where the burials were, and we went through a redesign from a structural perspective to elevate all of the foundations above the grave sites. At the end of the day, we came across about 82 sets of identifiable remains."

Despite some morbid setbacks, Studio | Bryan Hanes transformed a neglected space into an active space that represents the relationships cities can have across language barriers and oceans. The space manages to both serve the tourists visiting the libraries and museums as well as the adjacent neighbors in the businesses and residential areas.

Team List
Owner: Center City District
Architect: Digsaw
Landscape Architect: Studio | Bryan Hanes
Structural: CVM
Civil: Pennoni Associates, Inc.
Lighting: Beam Ltd.
Site Contractor: Seravalli, Inc.
Landscape Contractor: Mayfield Site Contractors, Inc.
Contractor for PennDOT Scope: Ramos & Associates, Inc.

As seen in LASN magazine, March 2019.

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October 15, 2019, 10:53 pm PDT

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