Students work on Temples Philadelphia Flower Show Exhibit

The history of the Pennsport neighborhood of Philadelphia has been connected to the Delaware River since its inception during Pennsylvania's colonial era.

The first United States Naval Yard started in the 1770s as a private commercial yard located in what is now Pennsport along the Delaware. Over time, the natural aspects of the riverbank were lost to time as industrialization and maritime industry took hold—during World War II the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard employed 40,000 people working around the clock to produce and repair ships—and the interstate system cut a huge swath through the neighborhood.

At the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's Philadelphia Flower Show, Temple's exhibit will explore the history of Pennsport and chart a course toward a future designed to reconnect the neighborhood with the waterway that has been so integral to its history.

"We are creating an exhibit that focuses on culture, materials, elements, gardens and climate, both past and present, of Philadelphia's River Wards, specifically Pennsport," said Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture Michael LoFurno, who is navigating the students through the project with adjunct instructor and Temple landscape architecture program alum Anthony Zachornacki. "We intend to represent the Delaware River's history as an active shipping port for coal, sugar and other goods, which we may contrast with the recent re-wilding of the pier areas."

Tyler School of Art and Architecture landscape architecture and horticulture students will present Piers, Progress and Processes: Charting a Course for a More Bountiful Future at the Philadelphia Flower Show from Saturday, March 2, through Sunday, March 10, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

"The Philadelphia Flower Show theme this year is 'United by Flowers.' One of our goals with the exhibit this year is to share the history of Pennsport; we also want to tell the future story of what Pennsport could be," said landscape architecture junior Cecelia Quay. "We are working in teams on several parts of the exhibit. I'm working on a community garden, which also illustrates initiatives like seed programs and tool sharing programs, trying to show people what a community effort like this can look like."

Including numerous sustainable and educational aspects throughout the exhibit environments, from the pier to the buildings to the pathways and water features, "we want to illustrate how we can respect the heritage of the area of Pennsport," said LoFurno, who is directing the 2024 exhibit—the 15th that he has been involved with at Temple.

"We want to provide ideas, solutions and opportunities for moving forward in the future as we deal with major global issues like climate change and rising sea levels," he said. "Our site being on the Delaware River is perfect for that illustration."

From design to reality

Temple University Ambler has a long and rich history with the Philadelphia Flower Show dating back to 1916, and Temple Ambler's predecessor, the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women (PHSW). The Tyler School of Art and Architecture's landscape architecture and horticulture programs, Temple University Ambler, and the Ambler Arboretum have taken home nearly 100 awards throughout that history in competition with other schools, design firms and public agencies. 

Having had the most experience designing, developing and building Flower Show exhibits at Temple, LoFurno is well-versed in creating an experience that engages the students and puts their work in front of an international audience. Students in the Landscape Architecture Junior Design-Build Studio have been working for several months on different aspects of the 2024 exhibit, he said.

"Pennsport is one of the oldest sections of Philadelphia," he said. "It was where the Swedes settled initially. Around that settlement, many industries grew up primarily focused around shipbuilding. It was home to the first Navy Yard—major ships during the Revolutionary War period were built there."

The maritime heritage of the region "is reflected in docks and wharfs, remnants of which are still there," said LoFurno.

"A lot of the waterfront has been converted into shopping centers and things like that, but there is also a mostly unappreciated respect for the river that's shown in some of the pier renovations," he said. "We're trying to build on that in the exhibit and show that you can work with the existing piers and possibly provide habitat and additional opportunities for recreation. The city has been doing some of that already—we're trying to suggest ways to push that further."

The student team for the 2024 exhibit includes Quay and fellow landscape architecture students Owen Lambert, Ruby Kabuiku, Laetitia Zagabe, Simone Keg, Margaret Murphy and Zachary Neyen. Lambert and Neyen are also working with horticulture seniors Frankie Napoli and Zachary Quintois under the direction of Benjamin Snyder, manager of the Tyler School of Art and Architecture Greenhouse Education and Research Complex, preparing more than 500 plants and trees for the exhibit.

During construction, Simone Keg has been focused on constructing what will appear to be an old industrial building that will also be the locus for the community garden. The area is an example of nature reclaiming the space, she said, while providing the opportunity to unite people through horticulture.

"The building will look like it's been taken over by invasive or aggressive plants. We're trying to convey how we can take industrialized spaces and make them something new, something that is more sustainable and beneficial for the community," she said. "I hope people that walk through our exhibit really get a feel for Pennsport and that they are inspired by what we've designed—using recycled materials, for example, things that they can do at home."

While the students were initially designing the exhibit, they were taken on a field trip to Pennsport to experience the area firsthand, according to Zachornacki.

"They are taking aspects of the neighborhood's features and history and interpreting it in the exhibit itself. A large portion of this whole project focuses on how we can reunite the Delaware River with the community—the construction of I-95 essentially cut off Pennsport from the river," he said. "Having an exhibit that people can walk through, rather than just being able to see it from the perimeter, gives visitors the opportunity to use all five senses. You can touch it, smell it, hear it—each section of the exhibit will have a different feel to it."

According to LoFurno, Temple will be demonstrating techniques for accommodating rising sea and river levels in ecofriendly ways with gabions and coil logs. Pathways will lead visitors through the varied exhibit spaces.

The entrance ramp, for example, will follow a nautical theme evoking the pier areas of Pennsport—water features will greet visitors as they enter the exhibit—"while the exit area will reflect more closely on the community of Pennsport," according to landscape architecture junior Maggie Murphy.

"For our exhibit I hope exhibitors think about Pennsport and its history. In addition to that, with the piers of Pennsport, there has been a lot of revitalization and that's something that landscape architects can play a big role in," she said. "Just seeing how our work could connect with possible projects in the future, I think, will give visitors greater insight into what we are able to do as a profession."

In the greenhouse

The 2024 exhibit continues a long tradition within the landscape architecture and horticulture programs of interdisciplinary and hands-on learning experiences. Temple is one of only a handful of exhibitors that forces its own plants for their exhibits. At Temple University Ambler each year, Temple horticulture staff and students use various techniques to "trick" the plants into thinking that late February/early March is a perfect time to put their best blooming face forward for the signature event's quarter-million guests.

"Being able to force our own plants for the exhibit gives us the opportunity to be more flexible with regard to our plant material. We can grow unusual native plants that most people would not be able to source commercially," said Snyder. "It also gives our students hands-on experience working in the greenhouse on plant production, plant timing and other important skills."

According to Snyder, the natural dormancy of plants in our region "is usually broken by heat and humidity during spring weather. 

"We need to trick plants into thinking that winter is over and spring is here. To do that, they need to have an early winter. To prepare the plants for the Flower Show, we are both adding extra heat and extra humidity in our greenhouse as well as extending daylight artificially," he said. "We're using about 60 different species of plants this year for our Flower Show exhibit, focusing on plants that are both native to this region as well as invasive plants that have affected the region's ecology adversely."

First arriving at Temple as a horticulture student, "seeing all of the preparation that went into creating the Flower Show exhibit, I was in absolute awe," said horticulture senior Zachary Quintois. 

"It's a special moment for me to be part of the team working on the exhibit this year. The fact that we grow our own plants for the exhibit means a lot," he said. "For someone that didn't really know where they were going in life, I'm a very proud to be helping Temple in readying the plants for the 2024 Flower Show exhibit."

Innovating in the Innovation Studio

All of the design-build work for the 2024 exhibit has taken place in the Innovation Studio at Temple Ambler, a dedicated space for multidisciplinary research and study in the Ambler Research and Collaboration Building, the former location of the campus library which was repurposed following the severe damage caused by the 2021 tornado.

"This space has a great high ceiling and lots of light. It provides a great deal of flexibility in terms of what we're building—we can get the entire exhibit in one space, which was a challenge in years past," LoFurno said. "We can work on the exhibit structures as they will look at the show and work on making the effects that we want to create here."

Each year, Temple's exhibit emphasizes education, "and we hope that's an aspect that visitors truly connect with," Zachornacki said.

"Maybe they will see a flower they've never experienced before, something that they might be able to plant at their home," he said. "People might take ideas from the community garden that is part of our exhibit and develop their own community gardens using some of the design elements they've seen."

Zachornacki is no stranger to the teamwork, diligence and creativity that goes into creating a Temple exhibit for the Flower Show. He was part of the student team that created Temple's award-winning 2015 exhibit, Star Power: Casts of Light that Stir and Spellbind.

"A major component of the landscape architecture profession is not just designing something on paper, but actually building it; seeing the process, using the materials and seeing how everything comes together. In the case of the Flower Show, you're building something that about 200,000 people will walk through and take inspiration from your design—that's very gratifying," he said. "We have great students putting every effort into the exhibit this year. I think it's been beneficial to them to have someone who has been in their shoes, and it's certainly been beneficial to me. It's like coming full circle."

Temple's program is one of less than a handful of accredited programs in the nation that include a mandatory design-build experience. The hands-on aspect of the Flower Show project and the emphasis on design-build throughout Tyler's landscape architecture program, "definitely promotes skill-building," said landscape architecture junior Ruby Kabuiku, who is working on the riparian woodlands area of the exhibit with fellow landscape architecture junior Owen Lambert.

"I didn't have a lot of experience with power tools before this project—I'm excited to be getting a really hands-on learning experience. One of the reasons I chose Temple University was that I wanted a lot of different experiences inside and outside the classroom," said Kabuiku. "I'm fairly new to Philadelphia and I love to see how history can be interpreted and conveyed through art. I am so excited to be working on the Flower Show exhibit this year—I went home and told absolutely everyone about it. It's great to see all of the hard work and dedication that we put into this exhibit and have the opportunity to showcase it to so many people."  

For more information about the Tyler School of Art and Architecture Landscape Architecture and Horticulture programs, visit  

For more information about Temple University Ambler, visit