Spruce Street Harbour, Philadelphia, USA

Source: Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.


David Fierabend, Groundswell Design Group LLC, Hopewell, New Jersey

Type of Area

Large river with artificial banks

Land/water interaction


Built Environment Types

Highly built
Low green

Scale of Impact

District/ neighbourhood

Intervention Scale (Spatial)

Small site

Project Types

Riverfront development
Outdoor Recreation
Public space regeneration

Urban/ Rural

Inner urban area

Visibility and Openness

Fully enclosed
Fully contained view

Recycled Barges and Shipping Containers

This project, by the Groundswell Design Group was commissioned by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation to create a new summer attraction at a tired and underused riverfront park, located between the edge of the Delaware River and a four lane highway, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The resulting park, set within an enclosed marina where pleasure boats and some museum ships are moored, is small and open seasonally – not quite a pop-up park as it is sometimes described, because it is permanently there – but it becomes very busy in the summer period.

The main element of the park is an enclosed floating garden which replicates a natural wetland. This has been formed by connecting three old barges which were towed 20 miles up the river from Chester, Pennsylvania, and six shipping containers. Within the space formed from the barges which comprise three sides of a square, the other side being the river edge promenade, there are seven islands made of recycled plastic that draw water and nutrients to the wetland plants – which are also very colourful and ornamental.

Two of the shipping containers are used as a bar and restaurant, continuing the incorporation of elements of the working waterfront into the design. Quite large trees have been planted on the barges which are illuminated at night. The park is provided with many elements to allow people to congregate and enjoy the summer weather – as well as to make it comfortable in the heat or in the evenings, such as a cantilevered “net lounge” out over the river, a hammock garden, and a fire pit.      

There is also a boardwalk along the water’s edge with pipe-fitted trees designed by local artists, which are equipped with LED lights and misters to create a Mist Walk that leads to an urban beach.  Facilities for recreation, relaxation, food and drink consumption are also integrated into the spaces, including painted wooden Adirondack chairs and umbrellas.

Many activities, events and performances take place in the park hosted by local artists, vendors, face-painters and musicians. The site also benefits from its marina location, permitting access and activities on the water nearby, which can be considered as part of the whole experience.

Perception and Meaning

Focal point
Place identity
Place attachment

Health and Wellbeing

Increased socialisation
Place affordance

Interaction with Water


The project scores shows excellent accessibility and great design quality – although somewhat expensive to maintain. The facilities are good and the structures provide shade and shelter which not many      sites      of this type seem to do.

There are good health and well-being aspects apart from the sense of being away. Water connections are strong – in part due to facilities nearby which give access – and physical activities are also good, also due in part to the possibilities of the setting within which the park is located.