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If you’ve passed by Paine’s Park recently you have likely noticed the two large gray structures that have taken residence there. The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s outdoor exhibition Open Source: Engaging Audiences in Public Space, commissioned British artist Jonathan Monk to create the two skateable sculptures. The sculptures reference artist Sol Lewitt’s installations in the nearby Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden, Pyramid and Steps.
Lewitt famously said, “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” In this case a few more machines were required to execute the idea. Moving from concept to finished form, the Mural Arts Program needed a solid fabricator with deep knowledge and experience.
RJ Rushmore, Mural Arts’ Marketing Manager, describes the early stages of the project. “When we started the process of planning Jonathan Monk’s sculptures, we really had no idea who would be able to build them. These aren’t your average skate ramps. NextFab’s attitude was, ‘We haven’t done anything like this before, but of course we can make it happen.’ That was great, and a boost to our own confidence that we would be able to pull off this project.”
NextFab’s Manager of Contract Services, Matt Bell and Wood Processes manager, John Haggerty were the project leads. John drafted a workable, scaleable design in SolidWorks. This allowed for precise scaling and informed how the larger Pyramid piece could be split for simplified transport. The SolidWorks design was then sent to the ShopBot CNC router.
Communication locally and internationally was key to the project’s success. Rushmore elaborates,” John Haggerty and Matt Bell have gone above and beyond in planning, building, and tweaking the sculptures. Even though he’s based in Europe and never visited NextFab in person, Jonathan Monk was able to provide feedback on the work throughout the entire process. In addition to the expected project updates, NextFab kept us up to date with 3D models and in-progress photos of the build process.”
The pieces were built in plywood and clad in Skatelite. Skatelite is a “super durable paper-composite” that resembles the traditional masonite commonly used on skateboard ramps but is stronger and more durable. Another advantage is that, as a paper product, the surface layer can be printed on prior to manufacturing. This allowed Haggerty to choose a concrete pattern to match Lewitt’s concrete sculptures and have it printed directly onto the material and insured that it would not be damaged by use.
In the wood shop, staffers Chris Kolb, Ryan Hyde and Matt Malesky assembled the wood structure and cladding. Metal shop’s Amanda Fowler worked on the steel angles that fortify the skateable edges. Additional details were added by hand-painting the “joints” to give the pieces a realistic concrete look.
RJ Rushmore concludes, “Working with NextFab, we were able to bring to fruition a longtime dream of the Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund: Temporary skateable sculpture. It was something a little different for everyone involved, but we were able to come together to make something great happen. Working with NextFab was especially rewarding on this project, because they’re local and it was important for us to pair Jonathan Monk with a local fabricator.”
“It was an excellent chance to coordinate a complex project by bringing together a broad range of disciplines and expertise and deliver a successful large-scale fabrication from design to delivery,” says Matt Bell, Manager of Contract Services at NextFab.
The installations will remain on display and in action at Paine’s Park through November. When removed, Monk and his team have plans to take the structures beyond the streets of Philadelphia. We’re excited to find out where they go next.