Electronic Thesis/Dissertation


Philadelphia: People, Place, Memory: Place-making and Connection through Historic Sites Open Access

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Place is shaped by history, culture, and memory. Each person who enters a place experiences it uniquely. The city is the embodiment of place. Contained within it are the memories and stories of people passed, “nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings, the sequence of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences”. The city is a combination of places strung together by individual experiences. But when the memories of these places are lost, so too is their power of place. A place that seems routine today may have been a place of passion a hundred years ago. People attempt to mark these places, but their significance is still lost on the everyday person, if only because the mark shows no power or passion. In order to counter the effect (or lack of effect) of the current day historic site, one must reach into the past and bring it jarringly into the present consciousness. It is not enough to have a text or graphic panel explaining what significant historical event happened at some location, there needs to be experience attached to it. The historic marker often highlights more than just a location; it can mark an event or a person who has contributed greatly to the story of that place. Place making has been around for centuries, but it only seems to be creating places of the present. Historic markers in cities have become mundane street furniture, when they should be beacons and pathways to the past. The design proposal for creating relevance and significance at historic places is not an easy one. By using a city that is already filled with historic sites, Philadelphia, the common historic marker can be revolutionized to create significant places and human connection. The case study of Philadelphia, with its deep and colorful history, creates a basis for implementation in myriad cities. This city is already filled with markers making note of important people and places of the past. These markers are mostly inconspicuous, blue and gold metal signs too high to read unless you are fifteen feet away. This proposal takes a handful of the significant places in Philadelphia and weaves them together to tell the story of life in the city throughout the 19th Century. These stories connect people of the present with the stories and people of the past in innovative ways.The stories focus on three different aspects of history: Arts & Commerce, People & History, and Industry & Technology. The sites are located where significant buildings once stood, and use various layers of design to create a unique sense of place. Graphics, story, and experience unify the sites. The environmental interventions include kiosk structures, projections, paving, and signage, as well as lighting and aural solutions. The installations are created for the people who live and work in the city. This audience already has a connection with the place; the markers serve as a tool to strengthen this connection. They allow the city and its residents to “move into the future without abandoning the past” .In order to keep up with current trends, a mobile application will be developed to accompany the physical interventions. The application serves as an additional layer of design by using video and augmented reality formats. The application is a database for all the markers and allows the user to chart their progress on their journey to the sites. It allows users to explore additional content related to the sites and interaction with their environment in a unique way. This proposal creates a new way of experiencing historic sites within Philadelphia, but its implications are worldwide. The visitors to the sites become more aware of their surroundings and gain a stronger connection with their city’s history and the people of the past. It allows residents of the city to experience Philadelphia in ways that could not have been imagined before. By creating places for history to come alive and renewing memories long forgotten, the site interventions create spaces that link personal stories to the city, pushing its histories into the present, and perhaps finally answering the question, “Do people make place, or does place make people?”

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