We are excited to announce that we have reached the conclusion of the Ewell Plaza design process. The construction of the building at 151 North Queen Street is also nearing completion and in 2022 we will see the construction of the plaza landscape, the completion of a statue honoring Barney Ewell, and the installation of a colorful public art façade on the front of the garage and above the Lancaster Public Library.
The Lancaster Parking Authority leadership and City Administration have received and accepted the final concept design for the public art façade, as shown in the updated renderings. The art façade has garnered a lot of attention and discussion over the months, so we thought it would be helpful to revisit how it came to be.
In 2017, the City of Lancaster published a ten-year master plan for Public Art. The plan called for integrating art into the design of capital projects—where feasible—to animate and beautify more of our public spaces, to attract attention and prompt dialogue in ways that only art can. In addition, the Master Plan specifically recommended “making Lancaster Square [now Ewell Plaza] a place,” and recommended featuring public art as one factor in drawing interest and expanding people’s imaginations.
In 2018, the City saw an opportunity to incorporate public art into the architectural façade of the new parking garage at 151 North Queen Street and asked that the Lancaster Parking Authority utilize part of the project budget to design, fabricate, and install a creative backdrop to the emerging plaza. The Parking Authority agreed and redirected funds that would have otherwise been used to build a standard cladding on the exterior of the parking garage.
In 2019, the City established a selection committee to evaluate façade design proposals, including representatives from the Parking Authority, Public Library, Public Art Advisory Board, and the building’s architect and construction firm. The City’s Public Art Manager helped to administer a request for proposals and identify artists qualified to work on a project of this scale and complexity. Criteria for artist selection included a proven track record delivering similar projects safely and on time and on budget, including the ability to integrate public art into architectural façades.
Ultimately the selection committee decided that R&R Studios was the firm that best met the criteria. R&R Studios is comprised of artists Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt, whose work is celebrated in many locations in the United States and other countries around the world. In August 2019, the Public Art Advisory Board approved the R&R proposal.
Later in 2019, the Lancaster Parking Authority brought its land development application for 151 North Queen Street before the Historical Commission, including the artistic design of the garage façade. The Historical Commission deemed the design incompatible with the surrounding architectural character and recommended the City Council not issue a “certificate of appropriateness” for the development project. On November 12, 2019, City Council considered the matter and heard citizens speak about the artists and design concept. After considerable discussion, Council approved the project and attached conditions to the approval, to ensure that the artists would conduct additional community engagement and weigh input as they refined their design.
Throughout the course of 2021, following delays caused by the global pandemic, R&R Studios, assisted by City staff and members of the Public Art Advisory Board, completed the additional community engagement specified in the Council approval of 151 North Queen Street. Per legislative requirements, the engagement culminated with the presentation of three artistic concepts, “depicting variables related to the words, colors, and arrangement of materials,” for a vote. R&R Studios hosted a public meeting on August 27, 2021 where they presented the artistic concepts. They also made the concepts available on the online platform, Engage Lancaster, for one month.
Following the engagement process, the Lancaster Parking Authority elected to proceed with the artistic concept that received the most community votes, entitled the New Lancaster Rainbow. The refined version of that concept (attached renderings) will be presented to the Parking Authority Board on January 27 so the façade project can move into the next phase of engineering.
The final façade design has evolved in a number of important ways. The colors have changed to focus on red tones, reminiscent of the ubiquitous red brick throughout Lancaster and includes accents such as yellow, green, and blue that respond to the preferences of community members and many influences the artists perceived around Lancaster. The aluminum tubes have gone from a cylindrical shape to a cubical shape, so that a different color can be painted on each face of the tube and give an appearance of motion when people move around Ewell Plaza.
The aluminum tubes have also been divided into segments and offset, rather than traveling the vertical length of the façade, which breaks down the massing of the building and provides a sense of stories in the architecture, both physically and metaphorically. All words have been removed so that the sculptural work can speak for itself and be interpreted in a range of ways by observers. As expressed by the artists, the art is intended to communicate the past and growing diversity in the City of Lancaster, a spirit of freedom and welcome, and a special atmosphere that blends the local and the cosmopolitan.
The artistic design of the building façade is of utmost consequence to the Lancaster Public Library. Sitting beneath a functional, concrete structure used for parking, the Library will benefit from a bright beacon that announces the Library’s presence and invites people in to experience and learn.
President of the Board of Trustees of the Lancaster Public Library, Aaron Sherman, shares, “As a leading institution of learning and culture in Lancaster, the Lancaster Public Library is a proud supporter of public art in our community. We admire the efforts of the City’s and LPA’s leadership in engaging the public and following a thorough process to arrive at a final result. We are excited to see Ewell Plaza transform into a vibrant hub of city life, featuring a brand-new library and a monumental display of public art.”
Adopting a design form that is more modern and stirring at this site joins an international movement in the architecture of public libraries. Some of the most intriguing (and often controversial) building designs are featured in many dynamic cities here and abroad.
In addition to the design itself, it is worth noting that R&R Studios participated in a very unusual process to adapt their work. Most public art project commissions are decided solely by a selection committee or public art board and do not involve direct engagement with the public. The engagement approach, in this case, involved visits, field research, tours, meetings, and evaluation of survey input, all of which informed the artists’ design decisions and modifications.
Art has been a vital part of Lancaster’s history, and our community’s commitment to art has been a key to our success for the past two decades, starting with our early First Fridays at Central Market Art Gallery in 1999. Art is often meant to evoke a reaction from the viewer, and for any work of art, these reactions can range from admiration to outright dislike. It’s natural that opinions differ about what will become a distinctive and memorable feature in the landscape of our city.
The final New Lancaster Rainbow design seeks not only to make Ewell Plaza a “place” but to celebrate the heart of Lancaster as a place for all. The creation of the new public space in the midst of our Downtown has been a long time coming and results from years of planning and public conversation. Together the elements of the plaza are spirited, eclectic, historical, pragmatic, and steeped in civil discourse—an ode to and echo of the unique identity that is Lancaster.