Landscape Architecture & Horticulture

Back to Blog February 16, 2016

Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture explores Hopewell Furance "After the Blast" at 2016 Philadelphia Flower Show

Author: James Duffy
A student works with a scale model of Temple' 2016 Philadelphai Flower Show exhibit

The awe-inspiring vistas of Yosemite. The epic, craggy maze of the Grand Canyon.

Mention “national parks” to anyone and these are the images that likely come to mind. Preserving the natural heritage of the United States is critically important. Protecting our historical and cultural heritage is equally critical.

The 848-acre Hopewell Furnace National Historical Site, encircled by the 73,000-acre Hopewell Big Woods in Elverson, Pennsylvania, is a time capsule of the region’s industrial history. Students and faculty from Temple University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture will reignite the fires of Hopewell Furnace at the 2016 Philadelphia Flower Show.

Just as Hopewell Furnace once used the resources of the land — iron ore, limestone, old growth forest, and diverted water from French Creek — to smelt iron, “After the Blast: Recollecting Roots and Resources at Hopewell Furnace,” distills the preserved industrial landscape into a 33-foot by 23-foot exhibit that will take visitors on a journey through this once thriving, nearly self-sustainable 19th century rural “iron plantation.”

“We’re not trying to recreate Hopewell Furnace, but we are taking what we’ve learned from visiting the historic park as our foundation. One of the goals of our exhibits each year is to ‘keep them local’ — provide information and ideas that someone could use at their home, in their gardens,” said Adjunct Assistant Professor Michael LoFurno, who is coordinating Temple’s 2016 Flower Show exhibit with Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Rob Kuper, Horticulture Supervisor Anne Brennan and Horticulturist Kathryn Reber. “A glacier isn’t exactly relevant to residents in the Delaware Valley. What this region has going for it is that it so rich in history; all of the national parks in the region are historic sites.”

Presented by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Flower Show will run from Saturday, March 5 through Sunday, March 13 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, 12th and Arch streets. The 2016 show theme is “Explore America — 100 Year of the National Park Service.”

Hopewell Furnace is just 50 miles from Philadelphia “but it might not be a location that many people in the area are aware of or think to visit,” LoFurno said.

“We want to bring attention to and educate people about Hopewell Furnace and this period in the region’s history. At this site, they dug holes in the earth for the iron ore; they cut down trees to make charcoal to fuel the furnace; they diverted waterways to power the waterwheel,” he said. “There was a lot of manipulation of the landscape in the 1800’s. There is a lot we can learn about the use of this site and lot to reflect on when thinking about how precious our resources are.”

After the Blast, naturally, takes its inspiration from the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, which today includes 14 restored structures and 52 features on the “List of Classified Structures.” In its heyday, the site included the blast furnace, ironmaster’s house, blacksmith shop, company store and several homes for the workers.

“The key features of the exhibit include a root cellar and vegetable green roof; a remnant forest; a rainwater race, which collects and moves water; and a representation of the furnace walls, which will depict the interior of the furnace chimney with foliage,” said Kuper. “The students have produced a lot of good, quality work. Visitors will begin through the cellar, walk through the remnant forest and then enter the furnace area. Temple is one of the few exhibitors to create a walkthrough exhibit, which is very important for the story we are trying to tell.”

Thanks to the exhibit’s location on the show floor very near the Flower Show central features, “visitors will essentially walk up the main path of the show and right into After the Blast,” added LoFurno.

“When the furnace was operational, it was said to be ‘in blast,’” Kuper said. “We’re taking the opportunity to look back on this historic site and reflect on what this landscape means to the region and history of the United States.”

Students in the Landscape Architecture Junior Design Studio joined with students from the ProRanger Philadelphia program — a partnership between Temple University and the National Park Service — to visit Hopewell Furnace during the fall semester. This year’s Flower Show theme honoring the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service will provide ProRanger students an opportunity to support the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture’s Flower Show efforts for the first time.

“I anticipate the ProRanger students will take away an appreciation for the creative inspiration the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture students chose for their Flower Show exhibit," said Anthony Luongo, Director of Temple University's Criminal Justice Training Programs and Associate Director of the ProRanger Program. "I also hope this experience will serve as a positive example of how working across different disciplines can benefit an entire group or organization. This a key lesson all students can take with them into their chosen careers.”

Landscape Architecture student Iyanna Crawley said the visit to Hopewell was essential to capturing the essence of the location for their exhibit.

“We’re using this industrial landscape to inspire visitors to learn more about — and to learn from — this region’s history. They might think about Pennsylvania in terms of the Revolutionary War or the Civil War, but what about the Industrial Revolution? It fundamentally changed how the nation operated,” said Crawley, who is working in the remnant forest section of the exhibit. “We learned a great deal about the types of trees and hardwoods that they used to make charcoal for the furnace. It was interesting to see, after all these years, the impact the industrial operations had on the surrounding landscape.”

Each feature has an important educational component, said landscape architecture junior Daniel Berger.

“The root cellar and green roof reflect the agricultural practices of the time,” he said. “They show how the workers may have grown and preserved fresh vegetables in ways that helped make the location — which was somewhat distant from any populated centers at the time — nearly self-sustaining. These are practices that can be replicated today by a home gardener.”

Fellow student Derek Suomi said while national parks evoke images of majestic mountains and roaring rivers, “Hopewell Furnace was a rough, rugged place where people worked tirelessly and lived out their lives.”

“When visitors walk through our exhibit, they will be walking through a piece of history that they may not be familiar with. While most iron is outsourced today, this was a time when sites like this were vital parts of the growth of the country — this was essential industry,” he said. “One of the things that sets Temple apart is the design-build aspect of our projects; it’s something unique to the program. We are taking these ideas and approaching them like we would a real world project. We learn a lot from our mistakes and it is helping us get ready for when we graduate in a way that other programs can’t.”

The 2016 exhibit continues a long tradition in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture of interdisciplinary and hands-on learning experiences. In the Ambler Campus Greenhouse, horticulture staff has been working for months to help select the plant palette for the exhibit and ensure the plants and trees are ready for the big show.

“One thing that Temple always tries to do is use plants that are appropriate for people to use in their own Philadelphia-area gardens,” said Brennan.

Temple University Ambler is one of only a handful of exhibitors that forces its own plants for their exhibits.

“Each year we try to hone our forcing techniques. With only two growing areas — our greenhouse and hoop house — we get creative with finding or making additional temperature zones and use every resource available to us to keep our crops on schedule,” said Reber, who has worked closely with Brennan and fellow staff horticulturist Merrill Miller to develop a unique forcing schedule for each of the 90 different plant species that make up the 2016 exhibit. “As in the past few years, we forced many of our trees and shrubs in plastic humidity tents constructed inside the greenhouse — the concentrated heat and humidity helps them to break bud a little faster than they would otherwise. We keep meticulous records of the conditions and progress of each of our crops so we can try to improve upon our forcing schedules from year to year.”

For more information about “After the Blast: Recollecting Roots and Resources at Hopewell Furnace,” contact 267-468-8108 or duffyj@temple.edu.