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The Flower Show

PHS Opens “The Lightning House” at Awbury Arboretum

September 12, 2023

leaf icon trees

wood processing for the lightning house 1

Unveiling of Newly Built Public Art Space Completes 3-Year Project “S(tree)twork,” Focused on Building Awareness for Trees and Community in Philadelphia Through Art 

September 12, 2023 – Philadelphia, PA – On Friday, September 22, 2023 the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s (PHS) 3-year public art project, S(tree)twork, will celebrate the opening of a newly-built public art and performance space “The Lightning House,” dedicated to growing the urban forest. Located in Germantown’s Farm at Awbury Arboretum (Awbury), “The Lightning House” construction incorporates the ruins of a former stone carriage house dating back to 1783. The space will serve as an ongoing community project space for woodworking, drum-making, and leaf-printing workshops in addition to acting as a gathering and performance space to support tree planting and stewardship efforts in Philadelphia. 

PHS has led the S(tree)twork project as part of its effort to advance tree planting and stewardship, working hand-in-hand with residents and community organizations in the lowest tree canopy neighborhoods in the City of Philadelphia. These neighborhoods have the greatest potential to benefit from the health impacts of increased tree coverage including community cohesion, violence reductions, and improvements in physical health. 

PHS and Awbury will support ongoing programming including PHS Tree Tender events throughout the year, such as the bi-annual Tree Tenders’ “Picnic with a Purpose” to celebrate and inspire local volunteers that lead tree planting efforts in their neighborhoods. 

“The Lightning House'' was informed by an extensive community engagement and design process that began at the inception of S(tree)twork. PHS and the S(tree)twork creative team met with Awbury neighbors, community partners, and leaders to develop creative ways to connect people to trees and the urban forest. This approach was augmented by engagement done through the city’s Philly Tree Plan, which cited storytelling, arts, and cultural initiatives as promising ways to further promote interest in trees. Over two years, the S(tree)twork team uncovered themes of local art, music, and history that resonate with the community. This led to programs including “Summoning the Future Forest with the Sun Ra Arkestra,” a concert with the Germantown-based Sun Ra Arkestra in the fall of 2021. The community engagement process culminated in “Form and Function,” a workshop held at Awbury in Spring 2022 that informed the future use and programming of the space to the community’s interest in music making and woodworking. 

“The Lightning House” name and S(tree)twork’s percussion instrument building program were inspired by the “Ancient Infinity Lightning Wood Drum,” created from a tree struck by lightning on Morton Street in Germantown. James Jacson of the iconic futuristic jazz band, Sun Ra and His Mythic Science Arkestra, created this unique musical instrument from the fallen tree. In this spirit, the main support beam and all wood used in the construction was collected from fallen trees in Awbury Arboretum. 

Designed and built by international art collective Futurefarmer and its lead architect Lode Vranken, “The Lightning House'' was constructed with collaborating Japanese woodworker Nobuto Suga. Other volunteers generously contributed to the building of the structure, including Philadelphia architectural studio Oz Collaborative and Hanson Fine Building, with roofing donated from Kurtz Construction. Using a natural ground rise within the arboretum, the building features an angled roof that meets the existing ground level, creating a unique, organic, and accessible roof space that can be used for public programming or as a community gathering place. The lower level features a barn door that can be opened for public programming or enclosed in inclement weather.The design promotes people to congregate both inside and outside, surrounded by the natural environment of the arboretum. 

For renderings of The Lightning House, please see below.

PHS’s decades-long involvement in expanding tree canopy in the Greater Philadelphia region promotes health and well-being for hundreds of communities, and its cadre of tree volunteers named PHS Tree Tenders now numbers over 6,000. Since the program’s inception, PHS has helped plant over 30,000 trees in the Philadelphia region. 

As Futurefarmers founder and lead artist Amy Franceschini describes, “A fallen tree is essential to regenerating the complex ecosystem around it. S(tree)twork extends the life of the tree to include the city through the transformation of fallen trees into percussive instruments. Musicians branch out into the community animating tree plantings supported by a volunteer network of PHS Tree Tenders.” 

Interdisciplinary arts curator Marina McDougall adds, “S(tree)twork exemplifies the vital importance of art and culture in urban ecology restoration efforts. As a community project space, the Lightning House is an invitation to join a growing movement of friends and neighbors to imagine positive futures, and revitalize our neighborhoods in joyful ways.” 

“The opening of ‘The Lightning House’ exemplifies the best of what happens when the community is deeply involved in the process of designing and programming a public space. We look forward to working alongside residents to promote the importance of trees through art, education, and planting events to bring their vision of a tree filled city to life,” said Matt Rader, President of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. 

S(tree)twork Lightning House Door Opening Celebration Event 
Friday, September 22, 2023 - Media Preview & Public Opening 
The Farm at Awbury Arboretum 
6336 Ardleigh St 
Philadelphia, PA 19138 
Details and Map 

10am - 10:30 - Reception  

10:30 - 11:00am - Remarks and Lightning House Door Opening 
Sara Stevenson, Executive Director, Awbury Arboretum (as welcome) 
Matt Rader, President, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society 
Nikil Saval, Pennsylvania State Senator  
Marina McDougall, S(tree)twork Curator 
Kiasha Huling, Clean Air Council 

11:00am - 12:00pm - S(tree)twork Drum Corp and Block Printing 
S(tree)twork Drum Corp musicians Rich Robinson, Karen Smith, and Coby Haynes play instruments created by Philadelphia drummers and woodworkers from fallen trees.     

Block printing - S(tree)twork collaborating artists Aaron Terry and Amir Robinson will facilitate block printing using a mobile printing press created through S(tree)twork’s community engagement activities. 

12:30 - 1:30pm Drum Making 
Led by Rich Robinson and woodworker Don Miller, an artist talk & workshop where Rich and Don will discuss the process behind building their latest instruments for S(tree)twork. 

4:00 - 6:00pm - Public Open House 
S(tree)twork Drum Corp musicians Rich Robinson, Karen Smith, Coby Haynes & others will play instruments built by Philadelphia drummers and woodworkers. BRING YOUR INSTRUMENTS! 

S(tree)twork, a public art project of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society rooted in Philadelphia, has been guided by the cycle of a tree’s life, and was conceived to inspire new perceptions of trees and proliferate the urban forest. A series of public programs, a public service announcement, and the Lightning House raise awareness of the vital role of trees in urban communities. Led by interdisciplinary curator Marina McDougall and the international art and design collective Futurefarmers, programming has included hands-on workshops that motivate public participation in tree planting across Philadelphia—particularly in low tree canopy neighborhoods. A community co-design workshop has informed the function and form of the built intervention. This hybrid structure will serve as a workshop and a gathering space to support reforestation efforts in Philadelphia. Awbury Arboretum in East Germantown serves as the site for the built intervention, with additional community sites and partnering organizations including UC Green, Nicetown CDC, and Heritage CDC. A culminating publication will document the project’s key phases and capture the contributions of the project’s many collaborators including microbial ecologist Ignacio Chapela, and anthropologist Michael Taussig. S(tree)twork is managed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. 

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), an internationally recognized nonprofit organization founded in 1827, uses horticulture to advance the health and well-being of the Greater Philadelphia region. PHS programs create healthier living environments, increase access to fresh food, expand access to jobs and economic opportunity, and strengthen deeper social connections between people. PHS’s work spans 250 neighborhoods; an expansive network of public gardens and landscapes; year-round learning experiences; and the nation’s signature gardening event, the Philadelphia Flower Show. PHS provides everyone with opportunities to garden for the greater good as a participant, member, donor, or volunteer. 

Awbury Arboretum is a vibrant landscape with a rich history in the heart of the Germantown neighborhood of Northwest Philadelphia. Once the home of a prominent Quaker family, the Arboretum has been open to the public for over 100 years.  Awbury has 56 acres of open space that feature historic buildings, woodlands, a meadow, a pond, and The Farm, a 16-acre village of community partners such as the Philadelphia Goat Project, Philly Forests, and Weavers Way Co-op. Learn more about our past and present at Awbury.org and visit any day of the year to find Nature for All.