January 12, 2010 | by Peter Downs, Editor
From an urban planning standpoint, public art is not always just art. Sometimes it is a catalyst for development.
Two major installations of sculpture in metropolitan St. Louis in 2009 garnered widespread attention, and both sparked hopes
of new economic development. In downtown St. Louis, the hope centers around Citygarden, a unique urban sculpture garden that
features 24 large sculptures by internationally renowned artists in a two-block park that includes as fountains, gardens, lighting, a videowall, and a cafe.
The attraction in Chesterfield is The Awakening, a mammoth ensemble sculpture of cast aluminum that depicts a
giant emerging from the ground. It consistsof five separate pieces: an outstretched arm, a
hand, a leg, a foot and a head, with a gnarled beard. It is 70 feet in length and 17 feet high atits tallest point. The total assemblage weighs about 8,000 pounds. The sculpture by Seward Johnson duplicates one he created in 1980 that is at National Harbor in Prince George’s County, MD.
“I truly think Citygarden is one of the best things to happen in downtown in many decades,” said Barbara Geisman, deputy
mayor for development in the City of St. Louis. “We believe it will be a significant catalyst for development.”
Stacey Morse, executive director of Chesterfield Arts, is just as enthusiastic about The Awakening. “It will be a pivotal piece in
the future growth of the downtown area... It attracts people to the area and will continue to be a point of attraction as new buildings
are built,” she said.
Sachs Properties, the developer ofChesterfield Village, helped start Chesterfield Arts 14 years ago and has since donated 10
sculptures to the organization to place in the community, including The Awakening. “Mr. Sachs thought art was a critically important
part of the overall master plan to attract office and retail tenants and residential development
to the community,” said Kathy Higgins, president of Sachs Properties. Higgins described The Awakening as “the most important component” in downtown, most of which has yet to be built. The monumental sculpture was placed next to Central Park, which contains additional sculptures, and next to the first office building
in downtown, Central Park Square. “We had two major tenants locate in Central Park Square specifically because they wanted to
be near those amenities so they could offer their employees something more than just office space,” Higgins said. Those two tenants
are AEP River Operations and Abengoa. Art is very important to the latter company, Higgins said, it has even established an art foundation in Spain.
The Awakening is more than an amenity, it is also a marketing advantage, said Morse. “It has brought attention to that building and to
those businesses,” she said. “It is becoming an icon and place marker for them.”
More generally, public art “really sets Chesterfield apart from other office developments,” Higgins added. St. Louis city officials hope public art likewise will boost their downtown. “With one stroke, Citygarden has made downtown far more attractive as a place to do business and as a place to live too,” said Mayor Francis Slay. Although it hasn’t generated any inquiries yet, “I believe that as the economy recovers, locations that abut [Citygarden] will see a lot more interest from prospective tenants and development sites will see more interest from developers,” Geisman said.
Civic leaders in both cities also expect their projects to draw tourists. Large public art projects – Citygarden cost nearly $35 million to build – can be tricky to construct with challenges and surprises outside of the normal scope of building experience. It is a testament to one company’singenuity that both Chesterfield and St. Louis ended up entrusting their projects to the same general contractor: BSI Constructors, Inc.
"What you can't see is that there are over 13 miles of underground piping on a two city block site, including water, sewer, irrigation,
and electrical conduit," said Joseph Kaiser, executive vice president of BSI Constructorsand the company's project executive on
Citygarden. "It is a very complex location. So many of the features that make Citygarden special—its unique lighting and water features and special irrigation and drainage for trees — are mostly underground," he explained.
Before those features could go into the ground, BSI had to remove 400 tandem truckloads of underground debris from the
site. "In fact, we spent the first two months of the project remediating the soil," Kaiser said. Then, the necessities of installing large
trees and sculptures caused BSI to adopt an unusual sequence of work: putting the normal finishing touches - sculptures and
trees - in first instead of last. The trees, for example, were up to 18-inches in diameter and weighed, including the root ball, up to40 tons when they arrived for planting. The holes dug to accommodate them were up to 12-feet in diameter and five feet deep, with
special drainage installed to keep the trees vital. A 200-ton crane was needed to lift the trees off the delivery truck and set them in
the ground. That's heavier than any vehicle one would want to drive on the planned granite and concrete walkways, so that meant
that the trees had to be planted early in the construction process instead of at the end, and the rest of the work would just have to go on around them.
Even though the park was not completed until June 2009, the trees were planted in November 2008, the sculptures were set in
December 2008, and then the concrete was poured and the granite was installed. "That'snot the way you would normally do it, but that is what was required to get the right cranes close enough to where we needed them to
plant trees and set sculptures," Kaiser said.
Kaiser praised the architect's design, but described it as incredibly intricate. "What thatmeant for us was that we were lining up the
joints of horizontal pavers with the vertical joints of the stone walls long before they were in place," he said. "And within that," he
added, "we had to accurately position light fixtures in concrete sub slabs so that when the granite pavers were installed the light fixtures would be in the centers of pavers. We had to have very precise layouts and we updated them on a daily basis." BSI used a total station instrument to establish all the base lines and then used laser instruments to precisely layout every line.
On top of intricacy and precision, there was the issue of time. "We had a very tight schedule, because the owner made a
commitment to have the garden open before the All-Star game [July 14, 2009]," Kaiser said. Ground breaking occurred at a rain-soaked ceremony in April 2008. The rain turned out to be a suitable omen as unusually heavy rains continued throughout the summer on the way to making 2008 the wettest year on record in St. Louis. When cold weather approached, "we built tents over the fountain areas so that we could continue to work through the winter," Kaiser said. So, despite the weather, BSI completed the job ahead of schedule.
HydroDramatics designed the hydraulic, mechanical, and electrical systems that bringthe fountains to life. "We sought the best
ways to use water to provide two contrasting types of ambiance: a cooling, active, splashing ‘playground' on the one hand and a serene, reflective oasis in the midst of a busy city on the other," said Kerry Friedman, vice presidentand general manager of Hydro Dramatics. The first of the Citygarden water features, which is located at a main entry point, is a pool that is 34 feet in diameter; the pool encircles a massive sculpture resting atop a granite disk. A scrim of water sheets gently from the base
of the sculpture across the disk, providing a serene and cooling setting.
The second is a split-level basin, 180 feet long, 20 feet wide and 16 inches deep. The upper basin, which includes a pool and
sculpture, is connected to the lower basin by a dramatic six-foot waterfall that adds to the ambiance with both sight and sound, muffling street traffic.
The third is one of the largest interactive "play fountains" in the United States. It offers 102 vertical water jets pulsing in ever-changing patterns along a 120-foot by 36-foot plaza paved with slip-resistant bluestone. An on-site computer designed, remotely monitored and maintained by Hydro Dramatics, controls the jets, which shoot as high as six feet and are lit in a rainbow of hues each night. In contrast to the active fun offered by the spurting jets, a serene pool cut out of the spray plaza contains
a small, contemplative sculpture.
Water in the spray plaza flows into an underground reservoir where it is filtered and cleaned with computer-controlled equipment
that minimizes the use of chemicals. The lighting uses energy-saving LED technology
and water is re-circulated as much as possible.
"It was a challenge, but we are proud to have been part of it," Friedman said. The biggest part of the challenge was scheduling around the trees and getting everything done in only 13 months. "Over 200 trees had to be put in and everything worked around the tree
schedule," Friedman said. "A lot of equipment had to be buried in the ground before the trees came," he added.
Kaiser Electric was responsible for installing power for the three water features, the light fixtures (which included nearly 400 in-ground
lights: 175 for sculpture lighting, 170 in-wall and step lights, and 40 bollards) and the lighting controls. The job required more than
five miles of underground conduit and nearly 1,000 light fixtures along the garden's paths and walls illuminating the trees, sculptures and fountains.
Kaiser Electric Project Manager Roger Messmer said the tight schedule, the lack of a staging area, and the weather were the
biggest challenges, but Kaiser Electric still delivered the job within the allocated budget and schedule. The result is something that everyone agrees is really special. "It was a great project," he said.