The Oval+ reimagines the roles the Eakins Oval and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway can play in the public life of the city.


Oval+ 2017-2019

Philadelphia, PA
PORT assisted the Fairmount Park Conservancy (FPC) and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation (PPR) in the public reimagination of the Eakins Oval and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. PORT’s approach to this work was two-fold: First, we wanted to develop a system of temporary public space that was both reusable and modifiable, moving FPC and PPR away from the wasteful pop-up park model that repeatedly spends money each year to no longer term effect. Secondly, we wanted to build momentum and public support for the permanent reconfiguration of Eakins Oval and the Parkway towards an orientation that elevates the pedestrian and the bicyclist, while diminishing the out-sized role the automobile plays in this part of the city. Using a mix of over-scaled bespoke urban furniture and an off-the-shelf scaffolding system, PORT’s work elevated the Parkway beyond just a collection of cultural institutions, to a space truly devoted to Philadelphia’s citizenry.

Photos Courtesy of PORT + Fairmount Park Conservancy
Fabrication: BFab
Signage: Philadelphia Mural Arts
2019 AIA Philadelphia Honor Award
2018 AIA Chicago Small Projects
2018 ULI Philadelphia Rouse Award (Finalist)
2018 AIA Pennsylvania, Design Excellence Bronze
Urban Public Realm Design

Eakins Oval Context

Situated at the base of the Rocky Steps, Eakins Oval is both a chronically underused parking lot and one of the most visited spaces in Philadelphia. It is surrounded by at least four lanes of traffic, is adjacent to world-class cultural institutions, and is a textbook case of outdated, car-dominant spatial planning.

More Than a Park

In 2017, the multi-week Oval+ activation challenged users to think about the future of the Parkway and invited the city to engage in a dialogue about — and to collectively imagine the potential for — public space. To start the conversation, the Oval+ explicitly asked, “What’s Your Parkway, Philly?”

2017 Site Plan

The installation was organized around a series of large landscape rooms that introduced visitors to various aspects of the Parkway and Fairmount Park including hidden and unknown treasures, unique biotic assets, as well as the art and culture of the city.
The Nature Room highlighted lost or hidden aspects of Fairmount Park. Murals twenty feet tall celebrated a historical trolley accessing the park from the historically disadvantaged Strawberry Mansion neighborhood, telling a story of inclusivity and access. 

Photo Courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

Art & Culture Room

A room for Art and Culture celebrated iconic Philadelphia cultural figures like Marian Anderson, Questlove, and Billie Jean King, as well as the quotidian aspects of everyday life in the neighborhoods surrounding the Parkway.

Photo Courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

Dialogue Room

A Dialogue Room celebrated Philly’s neighborhoods and collected feedback on what the city wanted to see on the Parkway in the future.

Data Collection

Oval+ set a standard for incorporating data collection at multiple scales into a project of this type. This data not only painted a full picture of who used the installation and why, but it also helped shape a design and civic agenda for future transformations of the Eakins Oval.

Data Collection

From smart benches to user interviews, to observational surveys to capturing vendor data, Oval Plus’ weaving of multiple streams of data allowed the project’s sponsors and partners to demonstrate its success and set an ambitious agenda for future uses at the Eakins Oval.

Photo Courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

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More Park, More Play

Our evaluation of Oval+ 2017 revealed a number of things, but one repeated aspect was that people wanted more opportunities for free, multigenerational play on the Parkway. 

2018 Site Plan

Oval+ 2018 was oriented toward the introduction of five pavilions that functioned as over-scaled urban furniture. These pavilions included The Big Seat, The Ribbon Garden, Mr. Mister, Philadelphia’s largest sandbox, and an enhanced beer garden under the Oval’s stately Plane trees.

Reorienting the Parkway

PORT worked closely with FPC, PPR and the Philadelphia Streets Department to close multiple traffic lanes on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, reorienting one of Philadelphia’s most iconic spaces away from the car and towards pedestrians and bicyclists.

Photo Courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

Ribbon Garden

The spectacular Ribbon Garden became a refuge from the baking sun and a go-to Instagram subject.
The bright pink Big Seat became a magnet for children of all ages.

Photo Courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

The sandbox — so big that it was essentially a beach — became a place for toddlers to play and for parents to chat.

Photo Courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

The vibrant beer garden generated revenue and offered a selection of refreshments, including local libations.

Photo Courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

Mr. Mister Pavilion

The Mr. Mister Pavilion created a cooling and dramatic end cap to the installation.

Photo Courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

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Play, Hear, Make

Building on the success of the award-winning installations for 2017 and 2018, Oval+ 2019 invested in areas of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that had been closed to vehicular traffic. Each block of the Parkway featured an installation and programming according to the following themes: PLAY, HEAR, and MAKE.

2019 Program Plan

The block nearest the Oval, received ping pong tables, basketball hoops, four-square, hop-scotch and tetherball. The Rodin Museum block received sound and art installations, a performance stage, as well as food and drink amenities. The block adjacent to the Barnes Foundation supported the act of making—music, art, friends, and memories.

Photo Courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

Community Table

Anchored by a 60’-long community table, PORT worked with Design Philly, Moore College of Art and Design and other creative practices in the city to transform this 600’ long stretch of roadway into a constantly changing urban gallery.

Photo Courtesy Fairmount Park Conservancy

Oval+ expanded the public imagination for what the Benjamin Franklin Parkway could and should be and demonstrated quantifiable evidence of the impact of public space investment.

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