Art in the open


Domus, the eight-story luxury apartment building under construction at 34th and Chestnut streets, will have plenty of eye-catching features when its finished, from a heated outdoor pool to 10-foot-high apartment ceilings.

Here’s one more: A dramatic installation by renowned performance artist, sculptor and photographer Dennis Oppenheim. The work, titled “Wave Forms,” will liven up the building’s outdoor plaza with steel sculptural forms, a design incorporated into the paving and plantings for all seasons.

“It’s the biggest [project], in terms of square footage, that I’ve ever worked on,” says Susan Davis, fine arts coordinator for the Redevelopment Authority, an agency that works with private landowners and institutions to develop sites. “It’s an enormous landscaped project with a very complicated paving and landscaped design.”

The sculptural components are large stainless steel bells covered with a mesh screen under which people can walk or sit on benches. Some bells will lie on their side and others will be covered with plantings. The patterns in the paving will mimic the rippling of sound waves. (Oppenheim’s original plans for the site, as well as some of his early video work, are on display at Slought Foundation, 4017 Walnut St., through June 1.)

This ambitious installation, which will be completed by the fall of 2007, is funded as part of the one percent for art program, which stipulates that developers of RDA projects allot one percent of the total building cost—$71 million in this case—to the construction of public art. Says Davis, that may seem like a significant amount, but “1,000 things have to come out of that. It covers everything in the project—everybody’s fees, every nut, bolt and plant.” That amount also includes elements of the work that will be invisible to the public, including a complicated irrigation system and underground wiring.

Paul Sehnert, director of real estate development in Facilities and Real Estate Services, says the developer of Domus, the Houston-based Hanover Group, has been a willing partner in this process. “The developer understands the potential for art to make a site great. It’s bound to be of interest and I think it’s going to help make it a [unique site].”

Davis says it was clear that out of the four artists short-listed for the 3401 Chestnut site, Oppenheim’s design was the most artistic and notable—and also the most complicated. “They were looking for a comprehensive site installation—something that wasn’t … sculpture on a podium,” Sehnert notes about the developer. “It had to be engaging, it had to be specific to the site, it had to be unique.”

Originally published on May 11, 2006