STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
One of the world’s oldest companies is offering you a limited-time present for their 350th birthday.
Designed in France and built in the Czech Republic, Saint-Gobain’s free, walk-through, edu-tainment experience “Future Sensations” is on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway’s Eakins Oval — now a designated park space re-named The Oval — through Saturday.
Gérard Aspar, a marketing executive from Saint-Gobain’s French home office, commented that the Parkway (which was modeled after Paris’ famous Champs Elysses) is the ideal pick to be the only North American stop for Future Sensations because, just like the nature of the exhibition itself, “we’re in a historical place, but it’s art and it’s science,” he said, mentioning The Oval’s proximity to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Barnes Foundation and The Franklin Institute.
It also helped that the company’s North American headquarters is in Valley Forge (They’re in the process of relocating those offices to an “innovation center” in Malvern).
Aspar added that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter made a strong case for the city when he visited Paris last year.
“We’re proud to be one of four cities in the world that will host this exhibition,” Nutter said during a press conference held June 1 at The Barnes. “They could be anywhere in the world, but they chose to be here.” Future Sensations was in Shanghai, China in January and São Paulo, Brazil in April. Paris gets it next in October.
Some helpful things to know when you go:
In the words of Saint-Gobain North America Communications Manager, William Seiberlich: “It’s abstract. It’s not meant to be literal.”
Yet, said Dina Silver Pokedoff, Saint-Gobain senior manager of branding and communication: “We were thinking of a Disney-like (theme park) experience.”
Especially because of the exterior lights on Pavilions 1, 2 and 4, it’s even more interesting at night. Hours through closing day June 6 are noon to 10 p.m. daily.
Pavilion 2 showcases Saint-Gobain’s innovations in acoustic performance materials, and features some intense soundscapes, like a plane taking off and Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue” (whose eerie organ themes some may associate with the TV commercials for the former Brigantine Castle haunted attraction). To get the full experience, you should close your eyes because there’s no visual element in this one.
According to Marie De Laubier, Director of General Relations of Saint-Gobain, Future Sensations’ Pavilion 3 was a big hit in Brazil, earning the nickname “carou-selfie” because of visitors’ frequent pausing to take selfies inside the rotating kaleidoscope. Philadelphia visitors have responded to the rotating concentric rings of colored glass panels the same way, she said.
Some of Saint-Gobain’s Philly area employees call Pavilion 4 “the pizza boxes” because of its shape. Inside, it’s a visual feast with a europop laser show and a mirror on the floor to catch it from alternate angles.
Pavilion 5 answers the question “who is this company?”, with exhibits and an interactive station on Saint-Gobain’s diverse product lines — from eco-friendly building materials, to innovations in fields like aerospace, energy, defense and medical/life science — and a video, made especially for Philly, that’s projected on the inside of the dome.
There’s street parking on the Parkway, or if you don’t mind the walk, SEPTA’s Suburban Station is a few blocks from the Parkway. SEPTA bus routes 2, 7, 32, 33 or 48 will also get you there, or take the Philly Phlash bus to stop 13. See www.futuresensations.com.
If the lines are long, or if you feel like hanging around a little longer, there’s a pop-up beer garden on site, a variety of food trucks, and for the kids a play “house that CertainTeed built.”
“The pavilions represent the power of creativity and the entrepreneurial fire that drives the American spirit,” said John Crowe, Saint-Gobain North America/CertainTeed Corporation president and CEO.
This won’t be the last time you hear about a public-private partnership between Philadelphia and Saint-Gobain. Love Park/JFK Plaza is getting a makeover, including what Crowe described on Monday as “a modern, sustainable” version of the visitor center, often playfully referred to as “the saucer.”