The removal of trees near the Museum—between the Reilly Memorial on Waterworks Drive and the Azalea Garden facing Kelly Drive—marked the beginning of a two-year project to create an underground parking garage covered by a sculpture garden. The addition of new trees, shrubs, and thousands of perennial plants was intended to rejuvenate the declining landscape. Fully supported by the state and city, including the Fairmount Park Commission, this initiative transformed a once underutilized space in a prominent section of Fairmount Park into a unique destination.
Prior to tree removal, an arboricultural consultant assessed the area and found no existing shrubs, perennials, grasses, or other understory plants that supported biodiversity, provided food or habitat for wildlife, or contributed to the aesthetic value of Fairmount Park around the Museum. The trees that underwent removal were mainly black locust and the invasive Norway maple, interspersed with some pines and other species.
Removal and Rejuvenation
A total of 47 existing trees were removed and an additional 17 were transplanted to adjacent areas of the park. The project involved planting 100 new trees as well as the preservation of 18 mature trees and 10 young trees. Additionally, some 475 shrubs were planted along with roughly 4,000 perennials, ornamental grasses, ferns, and vines.
The roof garden and landscaping surrounding the garage is composed of a diverse palette of native plants to support the park's wildlife through various stages of the life cycle, including many species of birds, butterflies, squirrels, and chipmunks. The rich tapestry of plants—arranged in natural layers of large canopy trees, understory trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants—provides much greater seasonal interest, adding flowers, fragrance, berries, and fall color that were not previously part of the landscape. To ensure the success and longevity of the proposed landscape, most of the lawn and its plantings are supported by an irrigation system. Also, several large trees were incorporated into the design to help ease the transition from the existing landscape to the new landscape.
A number of oak trees small enough to transplant were relocated to adjacent park grounds. Three trees of significant maturity were lost, including a silver linden, a horse chestnut, and a London plane tree. Any black locust tree that was removed was milled into lumber for use on future Fairmount Park projects.
An Integrated Landscape
The shape and size of the parking garage was inspired and directed by surrounding landscape features. To provide entry to the new landscape, accessible paths to the roof garden offer views of the Azalea Garden and Schuylkill River. The roof garden features two paved and tree-shaded seating areas as well as sunny, gently sloping lawn areas. A granite-paved terrace with panoramic views of the Schuylkill River, the falls, and Boathouse Row are punctuated with an interactive water feature. New sculpture installations are situated throughout the roof garden, contributing to the richness of the destination and celebrating its connection with Fairmount Park and the Museum. Visitors have access between the garage and the Museum via an elevator pavilion and accessible paths. The materials used to construct the garage were inspired from the surrounding landscape, and help to blend and integrate the structure with its natural setting. On-site stone boulders were recycled and used in terraced boulder retaining walls, much like those found along Kelly Drive. The exposed facade of the garage mimics existing stone walls at the foot of the Museum.