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Art that bridges spaces between people

Sculptor Miguel Horn creates dramatic car park artwork as part of Philadelphia development

Mark Moran
29 October 2021
The artwork by Miguel Horn
Philadephians pass by one of the figures
Philadephians pass by one of the figures


A group of figures supporting each other in what appears to be a bid to bride the space between two buildings. This is the impression created by a dramatic sculpture positioned on the sides of an automotive bridge connecting a new car park and hotel in the US city of Philadelphia.

The aluminium sculpture was commissioned as part of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s 1% for Art Programme.

Miguel Horn, a Philadelphia-based artist, is known for creating works of art that reflect on the natural and built environment through the lens of the human experience. His installations are often integrated into public spaces interacting with viewers at different scales. His works address the societal challenges we face as communities and individuals.

Horn said: “From a broad perspective, the message of ContraFuerte reinforces the notion of strength through unity and the capacity of individuals to serve as a force for good through collective action. This piece was inspired by the happenings of a contemporary world, from events that unfolded between 2016 through the time of its installation in 2021, while also reflecting the countless instances of people coming together to organize and take action throughout history.

“As we continue to see challenges and barriers across the world, ContraFuerte reflects how we all continue to form a greater strength within an unending pursuit to overcome obstacles that galvanize society, whether they are times of racial division, a pandemic, economic depression, or other societal disturbances that arise before us.”

To create the forms of the sculpture, Horn worked through a series of models. The models are small-scale versions of the bridge with wire and clay figures hand-sculpted on to them. Starting with sketches and clay maquettes, he works out the details of his pieces before carving or casting. Digital tools have evolved his process, integrated into his work as an enhancement rather than a replacement.

Using CAD software to plan, layout, and develop compositions allowed him to work with greater precision and accuracy. However, in developing the forms, his manual, analogue methods won out. Detailed sketches and iterations of his clay maquette models carry the soul of his work, but the details are exacted digitally.

“This project was a thrilling experience,” Horn said. “It required the use of new technological platforms that we had to design to ensure the piece was created correctly. We integrated Lidar data (Spatial 3d Scanning) at an early stage to create an accurate digital environment to work from. I worked with Landau Design & Technology to automate the computer design process with custom digital tools. I sculpted the models in foam, clay and digitally throughout the process, refining the forms each time. I built a production facility around the project and trained a crew of art students to join me in the two-year process of assembly. The engineering and installation itself were a work of art that required millimetric precision to ensure its successful integration into the site. The course of its implementation reflected the message of the artworks content; it was the result of collective efforts from so many dedicated individuals without which it would have not been possible.”

It is expected that ContraFuerte, located on the doorstep of Reading Terminal Market, will become an important cultural landmark. ContraFuerte is the final phase of a 40-year development that includes a 900-space parking garage, retail and the 246-room hotel.

ContraFuerte is being developed by real estate developer Parkway Corporation, Wurzak Hotel Group, Glenmont Capital and the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC).

Robert Zuritsky, chief executive of Parkway, said. “We are proud to unveil ContraFuerte by the renowned artist Miguel Horn and believe this is another transformative project. We are proud to have worked with Miguel to commission this piece. Its beauty provokes thought and consideration of how individuals support each other for a greater good.”

Gregory Heller, senior vice president of community investment at PHDC. “Since its inception 62 years ago, Percent for Art has led to hundreds of original artworks across Philadelphia’s civic landscape. Today the programme places a focus on diverse artists and meaningful community engagement, viewing public art as an inspiring force that can lift up unheard voices, tell a spectrum of stories, and engage all of our people.”

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