Isaac Kremer/ July 26, 2017/ beer, placemaking/ 0 comments

 

The Independence Beer Garden in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was a revelation. Literally steps away from the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, this project successfully captured the spirit of the pop-up and tactical urbanism to create a cool and fun social gathering and meeting space. The Beer Garden had formal seating areas under a garden trellis with lush plantings. On the ground level of the mid-century modern building is an open air passageway with plenty of room for a pop-up bar and dozens of tables. Finally, an open air public plaza to the rear of the building was transformed with the addition of some simple games, lighting, picnic tables, and bike parking. Altogether the site encompasses 20,000 square feet and has capacity to accommodate several hundred people.

Here we will break down the individual elements that when combined together make this space great.

The Building

The Rohm and Haas Corporate Headquarters is a charmed location for a project of this nature to take place. Completed in 1964, it was one of the first urban renewal projects in Philadelphia. The building is recognized as a fine example of the International Style as well. While many similar urban renewal projects from this period led to disastrous results, this apparently was a happy exception. Rohm and Haas continued in operation as an independent company until 2009 when they were acquired by Dow Chemical Company for $15 billion. This transition in corporate ownership likely set the stage for re-purposing of the expansive plazas into usable space several years afterwards.

Public Art

The Milkweed Pod is a wonderful piece of public art completed in 1965 by Clark B. Fitz-Gerald. Mr. Fitz-Gerald lived a vigorous life passing away at age 87 in 2004. According to his obituary in the New York Times: 

Working in wood, stone, metal and bronze, Mr. Fitz-Gerald took inspiration from the natural world, including the structures of seeds and spores, kelp fronds and whale vertebrae.

This particular sculpture rises from a fountain and creates a dramatic accent and visual terminus for the open air public plaza. We found it to be a frequent rendezvous area providing seating for guests who sat on the wall surrounding the fountain. An interesting feature in the background were re-purposed pallets placed on wheels that served as a screen for the beer container storage behind them. A more sympathetic approach might have utilized the statue as a focal point of the IBG project, though this was complicated by space use constraints and its location at the extreme end of the plaza. We still saw a number of people circulating through and sitting on the ledge surrounding the fountain.

Bike Parking

For people who choose to come by bike it is important to provide a space for them.  This rack also served as an occasional bench or support for people who leaned up against it.

Container Restaurant and Beer Stand

Beer taps were creatively placed in a trailer with the kegs inside. Cans were served out of a rolling cooler to the front. The use of reclaimed wood and the illuminated light bulb “BEER” sign gave a rustic Americana look to the whole venture. To the rear in repurposed shipping containers was the kitchen.

Crowd Control

Metal tubs with a post set in wet concrete and natural fiber rope connecting them allowed for a modicum of crowd control. We might have preferred a more colorful and visible rope material. And while concrete got the job done with the the pots, they might have been filled with plants or something more colorful and artsy. As implemented these looked like an unfinished afterthought needing further refinement compared to the quality of everything else.

String Lights and Bases

Lights were suspended in this space without having to drill a single hole. This was achieved by a fairly simple system of a metal pole set in a square wood framed base. The base with salvaged wood siding served as a light support that doubled as almost a bistro table waist high where people could rest their food and drinks.

Jumbo Connect Four

This simple game was appealing to kids of all ages. Unlike similar oversized versions made from plastic that are prone to fail (causing all pieces to fall out during the game) this one was smaller in scale though far sturdier. At points it was entertaining to watch grown adults leaning sideways to see the position of all the pieces before making their move. A tabletop location would easily rectify that problem.

Cornhole

Multiple sets of cornhole boards and beanbags to throw kept people constantly entertained. This fairly low cost equipment can be self-made or purchased.

Shuffleboard

This was a playful addition. The poly-plastic shuffleboard court is weather resistant. All it needs is a hard surface to be set on. Tight budgets can skip the court itself and just get the equipment. If you have a smooth enough surface use tape or paint to recreate your board for $10 as opposed to $1,390 for the deluxe version.

Conclusion

The combination of all the features together created a well-programmed space full of activity. Unique advantages this project had were the large intact plaza spaces of the mid-century modern building it was located in to work with. Another advantage was the location in the city center and by major tourist attractions. Also, the number of young people in their 20s and 30s were a key to activating this space.

Turning our head down an empty neighboring alley owned by a separate owner, we are left to wonder and speculate about whether the model of Independence Beer Garden will spread? What opportunities await when you extend these ideas to the next lot, the next block, the city and then beyond?

What are your thoughts about the Independence Beer Garden? Let us know in the comments below.

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About Isaac Kremer

Isaac Kremer is a transformational leader with a track record of success revitalizing downtowns in the United States. He has written and spoken extensively. He's always on the lookout for new and innovative ideas to unlock the potential of downtown areas.

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