In 2016, the Fairmount Water Works was awarded a two-year grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, and a more recent one-year capital grant from the McLean Contributionship for the creation and implementation of a demonstration Mussel Hatchery.

The resulting installation, located in the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center, demonstrates the ecological benefits of freshwater mussel restoration within the Delaware River watershed, and provides a facility for rearing mussels to be released in the river. This site-specific living enclave is the first of its kind in the region, in addition to breaking new ground within the field of interpretation for its genuinely interdisciplinary approach to environmental education—integrating history, science, and the arts.

The multidisciplinary story told in the Mussel Hatchery is framed by the site’s unparalleled power of place—a thread that links the future with the past, and connects visitors to the urban landscape and watershed of today.  The Interpretive Center traces connections between individuals and our water sources, linking the environmental stewardship of the present to the one of Philadelphia’s greatest civic contributions: the engineering innovations of the historic Water Works Complex.

Immersive Installation and Living Laboratory, Fairmount Water Works

530 sq. ft.

Completed February 2017


Within the living enclave, layers of interpretation seamlessly integrate four distinct lenses of experience: real science in real time; immersive planning and design; artful interventions that provide a deeper exploration of natural processes; and best practices in informal environmental education. We worked with scientists, storytellers, artists and technologists side by side to accurately communicate information about aquatic restoration and ecology. The exhibit follows the “Hands On, Minds In” methodology, an experiential and learner-driven approach to science education. Each lens layers to strengthen the overall visitor experience, offering multiple open-ended pathways to "making sense" of the hatchery and laboratory.

Habithèque Inc. provided the initial vision of the project— conceptually and physically designing the space and working closely with Beth Denitz to complete the project grant proposals. Working in close collaboration with the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Philadelphia Water Department and Mark B. Thompson & Associates, Habithèque led all aspects of the exhibit creation. An exceptional team of makers and scientists joined Habithèque to collaborate on specific exhibit elements, including nationally recognized Hands on Studios; Academy Award winning special effects artists, Magnopus; and world renowned eco-artist Stacy Levy.

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The finished exhibition provides a window into a living aquatic science laboratory, the life and times of a freshwater mussel, and information about how cleaner river water depends on this imperiled aquatic animal. Visitors can interact with scientists, watch animated short film, take a personality quiz to discover what animal they are most alike, make rubbings from wall tiles of various river characters and explore the companion interactive digital exhibit that answers the question, “are they predator or prey?” These are just some of the activities in this groundbreaking STEAM-based immersive installation. 

For more information about freshwater mussels, Visit the companion website:

Project Collaborators:

Mark B. Thompson & Associates, Hanson Fine Building, Metalworks, Hands On! Studio, Interactive Mechanics, Greenhouse Media, Gecko Group, B Fabrication, Cavo Design Build, Devine Brothers Inc., Pigeonbread Productions, Urban Video Productions, Urban Engineers, Todd Leatherman, Peltz Creative, Don Cassity, Heads of State, Beth Denitz, and Andrew Mead.