../1198/space%20holder


   Anatomy of the Water Works
Photo by Greg Benson
   One
set of buildings. Six different uses. 185 years of history.
    You don’t just renovate a place like the Fairmount Water Works, which has alternately housed steam engines, water wheels, a saloon, turbines, an aquarium and a swimming pool. You excavate it, searching for pieces of its multilayered past.
    "We’re treating it as an archaeological site," says Mark Thompson Ar’65 GAr’69, the architect whose firm has been involved since the early 1990s in restoring the landmark. In order to accomplish this, "We enlarged our definition of what architecture was and is."
    Claire Donato C’86 GAr’89, an associate in Thompson’s firm who’s been working on the project, explains that when they teamed up with Ed Grusheski G’74 at the Philadelphia Water Department to develop plans for the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center, they began tying the goals of that endeavor to some of their restoration work. "We really started to look below or behind the surfaces that were there to see what was still intact and how that could be used to support the exhibit’s educational goals." That strategy paid off.
    In their "top to bottom restoration" of the old engine house, for instance, they ripped up the floor that was built in 1835 when the original steam engines were retired and the upper-level of the building was converted to a saloon.
    Crammed in the space below were giant holding tanks for sea water that were used for the public aquarium that opened in 1911. By removing those tanks, they revealed the massive engine block that had supported the original machinery. "We have great images of that when the floor was dug up," she adds. "Standing in the original floor level looking up to the roof trusses, you really got a sense of the original scale; it was very powerful to have that view again."
    The renovation process has yielded other treasures, as well. "What we were finding," Donato says, "was that the previous users had no reason to take stuff out. The most expedient thing to do was to cover over it. So we started punching holes through these walls and finding out that, ‘Look, the flume is still there. It’s beautifully intact,’ and, making that connection, ‘Well, maybe the [cradle] is still there for the water wheels.’ So we chopped through the floor and started taking dirt and fill out, and sure enough, it was still there in beautiful condition.
    "It sort of shook the programming up a little bit, but in an exciting way. Now we had real pieces of machines to include in the interpretive center."
    Going back to "the anatomy" of the Water Works, in Thompson’s words, rather than relying solely on written records, is yielding a more complete historical picture of the site. "I’m convinced," he says, "that while everyone is looking at this phase as the restoration phase, it’s just one more part of what will be an ongoing learning and investigative and interpretive activity that has really got another several generations to go."

back to feature

../1198/space%20holder

 

 

January/February Contents | Gazette Home

Copyright 2000 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 12/23/99