Sure, it's art, but it's also a bike rack

Juliet Whelan calls her bike-rack sculpture "Koi." It will be installed at the Cira Centre after its exhibition, along with the other sculptures, at the Philadelphia Flower Show.
Juliet Whelan calls her bike-rack sculpture "Koi." It will be installed at the Cira Centre after its exhibition, along with the other sculptures, at the Philadelphia Flower Show. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 02, 2014

Last June, Nathaniel Ross hopped onto his bike, hoping to get some inspiration around the city.

The carpenter, 36, found it at Penn Center Plaza, former location of the Broad Street Station of the Pennsylvania Railroad, once one of the largest passenger terminals in the world and demolished in 1953.

"It was a beautiful building," he said.

This summer, a metal sculpture will commemorate the station's grand arches. When Ross' piece is installed, it will become a bicycle rack. He has named the sculpture Philadelphia Bike Terminal.

Ross said he built the rack in the same way the station would have been built, with no metal welding.

The sculpture and six others will be on display at the Philadelphia Flower Show through March 9 in the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia's space. All were winners of the coalition's competition challenging designers, artists, and architects to come up with racks for two to four bicycles that can double as public art.

Ten winners out of more than 150 entries, some from out of state, were selected, coalition spokesman Nicholas Mirra said.

Ralph Tullie conceived of a design called Bike Cloud that consists of blue circles of different sizes.

"Why should our data have all the fun? Now our bikes can join in on the cloud storage trend," said Tullie, 45, who runs his own design studio. His rack is to be installed in Sister Cities Park.

Juliet Whelan, 41, was thrilled when she found out that her Japanese kimono-inspired entry will be installed at the Cira Centre.

This rack "is light and modern, and the Cira Centre is, too," the architect said, adding that she was inspired by an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Whelan's design consists of a silver plate with oval holes. Blue-and-green flashing lights behind the plate create the effect of water rippling. She named it Koi.

Other winning entries include contraptions in the shape of birds, leaf petals, and a cloud-and-sun effort called Partly Sunny.

Clearly, all of the sculptures are unique pieces of art, but are they bike racks?

The submissions do not signal to riders right away that they are contraptions to secure their bikes.

"After it's installed, I might take one of my bikes down there and lock it there, just to give people a hint that that's what it is," Ross joked.

Mirra said the coalition had considered attaching plaques to the pieces informing the public that they are indeed bike racks.

The coalition sponsored the competition in partnership with the city's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, and with the help of a $50,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The coalition raised $50,000 on its own.

For their efforts, the artists get to see their work exhibited, albeit as functional art throughout the city, including the Art Museum, City Hall, and Boathouse Row, to offer more bike parking.

Though this initiative only increases the city's number of racks by 10, parking is an ongoing concern for the coalition, Mirra said.


jxie@philly.com215-854-2771 @julieyinxie

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