Ned Kahn ‘Shimmer Wall’ to grace Franklin Institute facade

As part of the New Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion, the 53,000 square foot addition set to open June 2014, the "Shimmer Wall" is designed to mirror the sky and make visible the wind and other natural weather elements. Credit: Franklin Institute.
As part of the New Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion, the 53,000-square-foot addition set to open June 2014, the “Shimmer Wall” is designed to mirror the sky and make visible the wind and other natural weather elements.                     Credit: Franklin Institute.

The Franklin Institute can’t help man walk on water, but it can show him the wind.

The institute is sticking a 2,665-square-foot wall to the facade of the new extension to the historical museum.

As part of the New Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion, the 53,000-square-foot addition, set to open June 2014, the “Shimmer Wall” is designed to mirror the sky and make visible the wind and other natural weather elements.

The Wall is a network of 12,500 hinged aluminum flappers that will move in the wind. During the day, the flappers will appear as undulating waves.

“It will reflect the ambient colors of what is around,” said Troy Collins, senior vice president. “So during the day sunlight, the sky, clouds, shadows, trees — however the light falls on the aluminum panels it will literally reflect that as its art.”

At night: “We have a very subtle back light system,” Collins said. “It will be lit from the back, so as the panels move at night it will either reveal or cover the light, thus creating a very different visual at night.”

The wall was designed by renowned environmental artist Ned Kahn, who’s known for making an invisible aspect of nature visible.

“We consider it a piece of art,” Collins said.

The vision for the Institute, conceived in the 1930s, was to stretch the building from Winter Street to Race, and 20th to 21st. It was supposed to fill the entire block.

“When the Great Depression hit, the funds weren’t available to complete the original expansion,” Collins said. “And so what we have here is an opportunity  to realize that vision.”

Where the pavilion is being added is a space along race that was an empty block.

The 53,000-square-foot extension will highlight the close connections between science and art by incorporating a number of spectacular architectural and aesthetic elements, including the Shimmer Wall.

“The integration of Ned Kahn’s art structure as part of our pavilion’s architecture creates a uniquely dynamic palette of limestone, glass, stainless steel and kinetic aluminum panels which will add a signature new facade to the culturally packed Benjamin Franklin Parkway,” said Peter Saylor of SaylorGregg Architects.

When the concept was first developed, Institute staff conceived of a few important rules.

“We wanted to stay true to the historic integrity of the building,” Collins said. “We also wanted to build in a modern feel and highlight Philadelphia as not only the ‘science’ city that it is, but also provide a piece of art that would reflect upon Philadelphia’s reputation as a science city.”

“And we said we could actually do both.”

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