Numerous studies have shown that students with access to arts education demonstrate stronger abilities in creativity, problem-solving, critical-thinking, and communication/collaboration; yet, rural areas tend to receive the least amount of arts education in the United States. With five locations throughout rural southwestern Pennsylvania, the Southern Allegheny Museum of Art (SAMA) is committed to providing access to the arts and arts education through the maintenance of its museums and through a variety of educational outreach programs for youth and adults.
The Ligonier Valley branch of SAMA asked the Urban Design Build Studio (UDBS) to help with the design and planning of a new sculpture park to be located on an adjacent half-acre parcel to the south of the existing museum. Once slated to be destroyed after years of deterioration, five large, modern steel sculptures and two steel benches by the late Pittsburgh artist Josepha Filkosky were salvaged by the museum and selected to be the centerpieces of the park. As a permanent resource, the Donald M. Robinson Sculpture Park will represent and continue Filkosky’s legacy as a devoted artist and educator by expanding SAMA’s capacity for providing youth and adults of Western Pennsylvania with critical access to high quality art and art education.
The design of the sculpture park is predicated on a respectful integration with the existing museum grounds. A new path weaves from the building’s main entry, through the existing garden beds, and out across the landscape towards the sculpture park, serving as an anchor for the project by guiding visitors along a structured procession through the landscape, as well as by acting as a reference for the placement of new sculptures as the museum’s collection expands. The path terminates in a “sanctuary space” on an elevated portion of the site accompanied by three of the sculptures. The space, taking advantage of existing natural boundaries of large conifers and brush, serves as a place of peace and reflection and offers views from its elevated position back across the site.
The sculptures—painted in vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds; constructed of 1” thick steel plate; and reaching up to twelve feet tall—required strategic siting in order to enhance, rather than compete with, the existing beauty of the natural landscape. The geometric characteristics of each piece informed its location and orientation with respect points of respite, contemplation, enclosure, or expanse informed by the site.
To accommodate the project’s modest budget and timeline, the design process for the garden utilized methods focusing on quick, collaborative decision-making. Full-scale foam mock-ups of the sculptures were used as part of a design charrette to quickly test placement of the sculptures on-site with the client.
Implementation of the project was the result of a diverse network of dedicated individuals and regional organizations. The entire scope of work, including landscaping, restoration, foundation work, installation and path construction, was completed on a modest budget (exact figure withheld at owner’s request).