A 5 by 25 sculpture sits at a bustling city intersection in Silicon Valley, where two Penn lecturers hope to encourage passersby to consider the effects of climate change.
Penn School of Design lecturers and wife-husband collaborators Deirdre Murphy and Scott White built the sculpture, titled “Warbler Migration,” for the northern California city of Dublin, after winning a competition held by the city government. Constructed with more than 500 aluminum plates individually bolted together, the installation is based on Murphy’s research on the impact of climate change on the flight patterns of warbler birds.
The pair worked on the project at their home in Philadelphia for over two years, making use of their fine arts and engineering skills. Last week, they made their final adjustments to the piece.
After studying flight patterns of migratory birds for over a decade, Murphy realized she could visualize scientific data as patterns in her paintings.
Murphy crafted the two-dimensional design, planning the theme and creating intricate hand-drawn sketches. White took her drawings and brought them to life through engineering, using wooden modeling techniques inspired by 1930s car design.
The installation lights up internally at night to reflect how songbird migration follows constellation patterns. Small, precisely cut-out holes in the sculpture portray the stars that make up the constellations. The cut-out triangular shapes represent the warblers while the polygonal design is inspired by the erratic flight pattern of the birds.
“I don’t usually incorporate political messages through my work, but regardless of what’s making it happen, it’s clear that climate change is real,” White said. “It’s easy to forget how human development has impacted the sheer numbers of birds.”
Although the two have sought advice from one another on individual projects, this was the first time Murphy and White have officially worked together on a project. “We didn’t really know it before, but we’ve been collaborating this whole time,” White said.
“If I had done it myself it would’ve just been flat, as if a painter had made it," Murphy said. "We’re a dynamic team.”
Murphy hopes that people passing by the sculpture will recognize the "soft awareness" and educational focus in the piece. “Maybe they’ll bike to the market or stop throwing garbage in the streets,” she said.
College senior Irena Xia, who works with the pair as their graphic design assistant, said the climate change theme "gave [her] more of a drive to get involved."
“It’s important to take care of our environment," she said, "and they really convey that message in a beautiful way."
Pieces of art drawn from the pair's process in creating this installation are on display at University of the Arts, 211 S. Broad Street, Terra Hall, Room 511 until Dec. 15.
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