CITY UNDISCOVERED: Artistic Revolution and the Rehabilitation of the Philadelphia Viaduct

Open Access
Author:
Bruce, Alexander David
Area of Honors:
Architecture
Degree:
Bachelor of Architecture
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • James Newton Wines, Thesis Supervisor
  • Scott W Wing, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • Architecture
  • urban art
  • street art
  • culture
  • institution
Abstract:
The streets of Philadelphia conceal a submerged voice of a creative generation that has yet to gain acceptance. They work in basements, backyard shops, and abandoned buildings. They perform, create and invent wherever the city will allow them space. They are the components of an “alternative” history in the city of Philadelphia. It does not coalesce smoothly with the academy or traditional museums. The voice, young yet sophisticated and informed, faces staunch dissent by the international and high-class art markets. The work is difficult for many to grasp; and because it stems from the counter cultural or underground tendencies of younger generations, it is easy for those in the acclaimed and prestigious art community to disregard them without paying homage to either the content or significance. The production and permeation of graffiti, street art, new age music, and any number of other unorthodox and iconoclastic interventionist practices in our culture today are widely viewed by the city as kind of urban pollution. I do not believe there is such a thing as urban art or street art - only art itself. The artist community in Philadelphia is in need of a venue to create, exhibit, and celebrate their artistic expression. The Reading Viaduct, which has been abandoned for almost three decades, provides unique site qualities that would benefit the creation of this artistic haven. The railroad’s central location places it close to Center City and the international art museums, allowing for high visibility and ease of access for artists and the community alike. The areas adjacent and below the elevated tracks, which used to boast the nation’s industrial hub, have fallen into disrepair as vacant lots or surface parking. The elevated railroad has naturally become a lush green space, and is already a destination for graffiti artists, teenagers, and others in the community that feel lost in a city that does not celebrate their culture or acknowledge their voice. Local artists in Philadelphia are collaborative, progressive, sophisticated, and active. In contrast, capitalism, professionalism, and mass production has led to the sterilization of artistic work and threatened to wipe out any sense of spontaneity and playfulness. By providing a physical network of studios, shops, performance venues and galleries, I hope to foster their development and visibility in the local and national art communities.