Building Walls to Unite Rather than Divide

5-6 Massey Burk

Environmental artist Massey Burke in one of the forms for Central Park’s rammed earth walls, which volunteers will create this weekend and next.

Want to be part of an art project of lasting beauty and function in Swarthmore? Get out your work boots and a pair of gloves, and volunteer to help this weekend or next on the construction of rammed earth walls at the northwest and southeast corners of Swarthmore’s Central Park.

Using a mix of clay soil from the Swarthmore College campus and bluestone fine gravel from a local quarry, environmental artist Massey Burke and a host of volunteers will create this essential element of the Park. Burke conceived and designed the walls, which will be the latest example of her work in ecological design.

“The interspersed layers of clay and bluestone sediment will emphasize the nature of each material, and also the nature of the town,” Burke said. These earthy components are put into forms, and volunteer workers wielding square tamping tools supply the energy, blow after blow, to compress and strengthen the walls. The resulting walls can be as square and strong as the bluestone slabs which will cap them (a nod to the stone used in the construction of many Swarthmore College buildings).

Burke, who grew up “engaged with the wilderness” and graduated from Swarthmore College in 2000, said, “I am interested in making pieces in nature, rather than structures that oppose it.” These walls are designed to beckon rather than bar; they will be at once durable and organic. They will support sitters, leaners-on and hangers-out in areas of Central Park where people congregate around the new green space opposite the Co-op, and integrated into the amphitheatre near Borough Hall.

If you would like to volunteer and can spend at least two consecutive hours on this weekend or next, e-mail the artist and project boss with your availability and questions: (Extra credit if you have your own tamper, but one will be provided if not.) It’s a chance to put your stamp on one of Swarthmore’s most prominent showpieces.

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