Wayfinding and Placemaking with the SEGD: 36 Hours in Philadelphia

It was a whirlwind trip to Philadelphia. Neither of us had visited before and we were surprised by how much the city had to offer. Even though we were there for a short time, we saw and learned so much. We think the SEGD made a great choice choosing Philly for this year's Wayfinding & Placemaking conference.

Part of the SEGD experience is leading members on tours of unique sites around whatever city they find themselves in, guided by the local designers and firms who had a hand in their creation. For the Philadelphia tours, the ALTO™ team split up to cover more ground.

Stephanie (our content specialist) explored the Rail Park with Cloud Gehshan and Urban Sign, while Melanie (our graphic department director) visited the Independence Visitor Center.

Rail Park- an urban oasis in the middle of the city

Rail Park is located in the Callowhill area of the city and is an initiative to revitalize the long disused Reading train tracks into a community-oriented park. The goal is to create a three-mile long greenway that will be two times longer and wider than the High Line in New York City. Even from the small section we toured, it’s easy to see how this ambitious project will develop into an exceptional community greenspace.

Phase One is a ¼ mile section designed by Studio Bryan Haynes and Urban Engineers, with environmental graphics by Cloud Gehshan, who animated the tour.

CG had the task of telling the area’s story. This turned into quite a challenge, according to designer Kate Otte. There was certainly a story to tell about the once-thriving industrial sector of Philadelphia, but no one seemed to know exactly what that story was. On top of that, landscape architectural firm Studio Bryan Haynes, had chosen the layout and materials, and CG had to work the material of choice, corten steel.

After months of research and tests with the material, the team laser-cut the area’s history into an 80-foot-long, 9-foot-tall wall of corten steel. The non-linear visual narrative spans approximately 20 years of the area’s history and is an assemblage of text and images related to the manufacturing plants that once drove Philadelphia’s, and the world’s, industrial production.

The park also features materials like rail ties and steel fences in homage to the park’s past as a rail line, and massive swings that command great views of the city. The plants within the park give it a sort of overgrown urban jungle look, while also complementing the pale wood and rusty corten throughout the park.

Independence Visitor’s Center and the Lit Brothers Building

Melanie headed out with Blue Cadet to the Independence Visitor’s Center, to see the recent upgrades to the space. The building is a hub for tourists planning their visit in Philadelphia, and experience is everything. Blue Cadet and IVC has transformed the space with engaging digital storytelling elements like videos and interactive screens. Screens throughout rotate through images of Philly’s attractions and several touch walls allow visitors to virtually explore the city’s sites.

We will admit that one of the reasons we chose this tour was to see our own product in action: perforated ALTO™ aluminum serves as the support and background for a several screens. The ALTO™ was sublimated with a marble finish, putting a modern twist on a traditional look.

The tour continued at the Lit Brothers Building, a cultural landmark that was recently renovated and transformed into a mixed-use building. Blue Cadet was in charge of a digital marquee that would attract and welcome visitors to discover the new incarnation of this heritage building.

The digital canopy displays kaleidoscopic videos of Philly sites and works by local artists. With the building located in such a busy pedestrian area, the canopy is a major draw for locals and tourists alike.

Wayfinding and Placemaking Sessions

A full day of conferences began bright and early. The line-up featured speakers from all over the SEGD network, giving us all insight into wayfinding and placemaking practices in the US, Canada, England and Germany.

When you hear people speak about their work in this variety of contexts, you develop a sense of the common challenges confronting wayfinding designers and brand identity specialists. At the same time, you see how designers adapt their practices to the culture, rules and traditions of the cities and countries they are called to work in.

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Participating in the conferences as a fabrication firm provides valuable insight for our company’s approach to research and development, as well as the ways in which we can further assist the designers and firms who use our materials in their projects.

Beyond that, the talks were an enriching educational experience. We especially enjoyed the out-of-the-box talk by Lucy Holmes. We heard not only about her incredible experiences as a creative director, but her current personal journey to re-balance her life. This exploration of the human drive to be creative held valuable lessons for all of us in the audience.

In between sessions, we got a chance to speak to many of the participants about their projects and how our ALTO™ aluminum project is ideal for wayfinding and placemaking applications.

See some of the wayfinding and placemaking projects we've collaborated on.

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