Anchoring Terrain is a design proposal grounded in an uncommon reading of Philadelphia as an open and dynamic terrain rather than a cohesive and exclusive spatial entity separate from a ‘non-urban’ realm. It is a terrain that was most famously engaged by William Penn in his effort to settle Europeans on American soil in the 1680’s. He structured this terrain with an articulation drawn by his surveyor Thomas Holme that divided the space of land from the space of water, the latter forming the Delaware and the Schuylkill rivers. It was upon this articulation of ‘rivers’ and ‘land’ that Penn imaged settlement, settlement which, in fact, defied the form he imagined it would take, extending along his ‘line’ of the Delaware and out of his control centuries before covering the two square miles of land between these rivers that he had set apart for his ‘towne’. His design began not with laying out a city that is generally assumed to be the seed of Philadelphia but earlier with calling out an edge to anchor flux. It is a starting point that opens possibilities more than it assumes certainties.

Three centuries later we re-engage this terrain that we see as open and dynamic today as it was in Penn’s time. We call out three kinds of anchors, each drawn from familiar places to less familiar purpose—railroad to creeks, avenues to trails, and edges to grounds. Each of these anchors initiates potentially transformative trajectories, vocabularies, and identities. We demonstrate their possibility in an open terrain rather than envision their future within a city, presenting a design approach to settlement that initiates and cultivates multiple anchors and plural languages rather than a plan or plans conceived within a framework of an entity traced back to Penn’s layout. Their multiplicity and plurality constructs a ground of settlement that is intrinsically agile, tenacious, and resilient, qualities that are important in a time of increasing openness, complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty when foresight and control of singular entities like cities are even more elusive than they were in the 1600’s. 


Trails were characteristic of the migratory nature of Native American and early American settlement in Philadelphia. These thoroughfares asserted themselves within the grid of Penn’s settlement as it extended west from the Delaware. They were made avenues, providing frontage for properties and vectors for traffic. We single out these avenues to be trails again, engineering them to become biotic and pedestrian corridors, exploiting their intersection with streets into zones of traffic and pedestrian access as well as both, high-tech and agrarian production.

Over the last two centuries the creeks that connected low points and pioneered industries in Philadelphia have been made into sewers and storm water drains beneath an altered surface. Rather than recover old creeks, we appropriate railroad cuts made in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to engineer new creeks. We work the topography of these cuts to gather in pools and streams, making places for biotic culture, treatment, and a number of opportunistic possibilities. The new creeks reach out to engender a new architecture of surfaces that accumulate and lean towards it both, physically and programmatically.

Grounds in Philadelphia have served to accommodate foreseen and unforeseen events fairs, celebrations, markets, exhibitions, gardens, hospitals, housing, etc. ranging widely in duration but with no aspiration for permanence. Through their calendar and appropriation these grounds transform and build communities, nurture experiment and innovation, and trigger competition and cooperation. In railroad adjacencies and vacant tracts on a line from Fairmount Park to the Schuylkill we see the possibility for such grounds. They extend, connect, and gather.