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Check out this architect’s radical idea for the Rail Park

It's at least fun to imagine

A rendering of the Rail Park in Philadelphia, featuring excavated land rising above ground.
Alex Bruce’s thesis while studying architecture at Penn State focused on the Rail Park.
Rendering by Alex Bruce

By the grace of a state grant, the first phase of the Rail Park is finally, finally happening. Once shovel hits ground, we could be walking along quarter-mile stretch of park along the long-abandoned Reading Viaduct Rail Line in a year’s time.

Design plans for that strip of the line earned the city’s stamp of approval long ago. But what’s in store for other portions of the park?

For years, local architect Alex Bruce has had a radical idea for at least one section. So when he heard the news about the impending first phase groundbreaking, it brought him back to his thesis year at Penn State. Right around the time Studio Bryan Hanes released its renderings for the first phase of the Rail Park, Bruce was designing a cultural venue for the arts along another section of the rail line.

Alex Bruce’s site plan of the Reading Viaduct Rail Line.
Courtesy of Alex Bruce

"Architecture students are always looking for a great site to focus our thesis on," says Bruce, who now works at local firm Wallace Roberts and Todd (WRT). "While walking around Philly, it clicked that the Viaduct is a hyper-urban object that weaves through the city."

For his venue, Bruce ultimately chose the site around 11th, 12th, and Callowhill streets, right by the Trestle Inn bar. "It’s basically the hub where the rail stops on the Vine Street Expressway. I felt like it would be more dedicated toward landscape interventions, given its shallow depth and smaller branches."

Bruce imagined excavating and lifting land up from the already elevated rail line, and building creative spaces along and underneath the mass. He says, "The whole goal was to take some inspiration from what was already there and use the existing site, structures, and buildings to create new scenarios that redefine this place for play."

Occupying the areas underneath the mass would allow people to interact with the Viaduct in a new way, says Bruce. "It begs to ask people, ‘How do you want to use this space?’"

Underneath the land mass would be creative spaces for artists and artisans.

Bruce recognizes that at the time it was a radical approach to the site, and says it’s always started out as more of a "thought experiment."

"I still feel like it’s not one person’s place to decide or be prescriptive out what belongs there," says Bruce. "But anytime I walk by and see the trestles, the more realistic I see the proposal. It’s would make it a such an engaging public space."