Unlike Trains in the Night, Students Converge to Revive Unused Rail Corridor

Local undergraduate design students hope their studio projects will inspire citizens and help spur development of an unused railroad.

A Kickstarter campaign will raise funds for the campaign to bring life back to an unused railroad corridor. Credit: Susan Kolber on Kickstarter

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We hear stories about all-nighters in front of the computer, students ‘living’ in their studio spaces at universities across the country — the sweat, tears and prolific frenzies that fill review halls with impressive renderings. But after the excitement of the project’s presentation fades, how valuable is this work to the community?

Three undergraduate design students from Philadelphia universities believe student work can play a bigger role in shaping the urban fabric. Diana Fernandez and Amy Syverson, two landscape architecture students from Temple University, and Susan Kolber, an architecture student from the University of Pennsylvania, were part of design studios this spring that explored opportunities for reactivating a three-mile unused rail corridor in Philadelphia. The site includes an elevated segment, the Reading Viaduct, which in similar fashion to New York’s High Line offers spectacular views of the city, but according to the project’s website this relic of industrial Philly mostly traverses the city below grade and open to the sky. It’s size and prominent location, north of Center City and connecting to Fairmount Park in the west, promises much potential for improving the public realm in a big way.

Mere miles apart, the students were unaware of their parallel efforts until brought together by a leading organization promoting the site, VIADUCTgreene, prompting them to ponder the role and potential impact of student work outside the classroom. Passionate about the design possibilities of Philadelphia’s unused urban railroad corridor, they collaborated on a marketing campaign over the summer to bring their studio’s designs to the Philadelphia community.

Often an untapped resource, student work deals with real sites and projects; yet, uninhibited by preconceptions and constraints of the professional world that can stifle creativity, it has the capacity to inspire innovation and energize projects. Susan explains that, “by bringing their research, analysis and creative visions for the unused rail corridor to the community, they hope to raise awareness and excitement about the site and teach people about the design process of young talented students.”

The exhibition, above | below | beyond, showcasing Temple University and University of Pennsylvania student designs for the rail corridor will open at the Next American City Storefront for Urban Innovation on October 12. Meant to “encourage people to consider and invent their own possibilities for the railroad,” the exhibition is sure to do just that, fittingly opening at the Storefront for Urban Innovation in one of the four neighborhoods traversed by the rail line.

Fernandez, Syverson and Kolber challenge us to reimagine the potential of academic endeavors, and leave us with the exciting suggestion that student work might act as a catalyst and vehicle for a community, bottom-up approach to urban redevelopment. The official Kickstarter page launched yesterday, seeking to raise funds for public outreach: above | below | beyond ::: futures for a former railroad

Opening Night for the above | below | beyond exhibition will take place at The Storefront for Urban Innovation, 2816 West Girard at 28th St., on Friday, October 12 from 6-10pm. The exhibition will remain on display through November 30 and is free to the public.

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Tags: philadelphiainfrastructureurban designparkstrainsanchor institutions

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