The Lightning House, a new public art space at the Awbury Arboretum, highlights Philly’s treetops

To highlight the importance of expanding Philadelphia’s tree canopy, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society is opening a public art space at the Awbury Arboretum in Germantown.

The lightning house was built on the remains of a carriage house from 1783. The space, which opens Friday, Sept. 22, will serve as a place for woodworking, leaf printing and making drums from fallen trees. PHS will also use it as part of its Tree planting and management efforts.

The Lightning House is a product of PHS’s S(tree)twork project, which involves converting fallen trees at the Awbury Arboretum into percussion instruments used by a drum group that performs at tree planting events organized by the organization’s Tree Tenders program become. A 126-year-old hemlock tree that fell over at Awbury Arboretum serves as the main support beam and was used to construct the benches.

Designed by Future farmers, an international art collective, the house features a barn door and a sloping roof that extends to the ground. Located on the 16 hectare property Farm at Awbury ArboretumThe creators hope it will inspire people to improve the city’s tree cover.

“A fallen tree is critical to the regeneration of the complex ecosystem surrounding it,” Amy Franceschini, founder and lead artist of Futurefarmers, said in a press release. “S(tree)twork extends the life of the tree to the city by turning fallen trees into percussion instruments. Musicians branch out into the community and encourage tree planting, supported by a volunteer network of PHS Tree Tenders.”

Lightning house renderingProvided image/Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

A rendering of The Lightning House, which opens Friday, September 22nd. The main beam was made from a 126-year-old hemlock tree that fell over at Awbury Arboretum.

The Lightning House takes its name from a wooden drum created from a tree by James Jacson of the futuristic jazz band Sun Ra and His Mythic Science Arkestra striked by Thunderbolt on Morton Street in Germantown.

The art space is one of several initiatives of the S(tree)twork Project that began at the end of 2020 and draws attention to the way people live among trees, perceive them and imagine future coexistence.

Neighborhoods in North Philly, Southwest Philly and Germantown have the greatest potential to benefit from the health effects of increased tree cover, including reduced violence and improvements in physical health, according to PHS.

Construction of the Lightning House was driven by years of community engagement seeking creative ways to connect people with the urban forest. The engagement process included contributions from Philly Tree Planin which storytelling and arts and culture initiatives were mentioned as possible ways to promote interest in trees.

The Lightning House opens to the public on Friday, September 22nd at 10:30 a.m. Officials from PHS, Awbury Arboretum and the Clean Air Council will meet with State Senator Nikil Saval to discuss the importance of improving the city’s tree canopy with artists from S(tree)work playing instruments made from fallen pieces of wood and lead block printing on pieces of wood.

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