Raising questions about higher costs and design changes, members of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission on Monday tabled action on one proposed art installation for the new municipal center, set conditions on another piece, but recommended approval of the largest work of art by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl.
The $841,541 budget submitted just last week by Dreiseitl for the three pieces of art – including design fees already paid to him – exceeds AAPAC’s original cap of $750,000 for the project. AAPAC had set aside another $250,000 for other public art projects on the municipal center site, and plans to use part of that amount to pay for Dreiseitl’s project.
Even at the higher cost, Dreiseitl has warned that creating all three pieces for that price will be “challenging” – and some commissioners said they should consider providing more funding, if it’s necessary to achieve his vision. The complete vision was unclear on Monday, however, since AAPAC did not have final drawings for his proposed two interior wall pieces.
Background: The Special Meeting
Only five of the nine commissioners were able to attend the special meeting on Monday evening, which had been called for Friday, Oct. 16. Monday’s meeting, along with one held earlier in the day by a task force on public art for the municipal center, had been organized so that both groups could make recommendations to city council on the Dreiseitl project. Sue McCormick, the city’s director of public services, has asked that recommendations be made by Monday – city council is expected to vote on the project at their Nov. 16 meeting. McCormick told AAPAC that city staff needs a month to prepare for the meeting.
There’s also a sense of urgency as construction of the municipal center moves forward. At Monday’s meeting, Ken Clein – a principal with Quinn Evans Architects, the Ann Arbor firm that’s designing the center and acting as project manager for Dreiseitl’s installations – told commissioners that decisions need to be made about Dreiseitl’s project so that work at the municipal center won’t be delayed.
Parker reported that the task force passed motions recommending all three Dreiseitl pieces, at the budgeted price he submitted: $841,541. They also recommended that AAPAC explore fundraising possibilities to supplement funds for public art at the municipal center, if necessary.
Members of the task force who voted on Monday are Ray Detter of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council; Bob Grese, director of Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum; AAPAC chair Margaret Parker; Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council; Ann Arbor city councilmember Margie Teall; and Spring Tremaine, a lieutenant with the Ann Arbor Police Department.
The Outdoor Sculpture
The main work proposed by Dreiseitl is an outdoor water sculpture to be located in the municipal center’s main plaza. Here’s a description of the work from a Chronicle report of Dreiseitl’s presentation to city council in July:
The sculpture would consist of a large, upright piece made of two rectangular metal plates standing close together, facing Huron Street. Water would flow down the front piece, which would be concave at the top and transition to a convex shape at the bottom. The water would flow from the top and drain out the back, continuing on toward the building like a river. Tanks connected to the center’s rain garden would store and filter water so it could be circulated through the sculpture repeatedly.
Dreiseitl’s models showed a bridge over the river-like part of the sculpture, as well as a couple of benches alongside it. He explained that he wanted to integrate his work with the surrounding architecture and landscape.
This piece has a budget of $728,458. The largest line item is $155,000 for lighting and controls, including multiple ground-mounted spotlights and possibly a spotlight attached to the building as well. The sculpture would also incorporate multiple hand-blown blue glass “pearls,” individually lit and programmed to flick off and on in a specific sequence.
Another major line item is for “water technology,” at $125,000. Clein told commissioners that this would include water filters, pipes leading back to the building’s mechanical room, two to three pumps, and possibly a system for treatment of the water, if necessary.
Other line items for the outdoor sculpture include $45,000 for a pre-cast concrete water basin; $15,000 for small stainless steel forms affixed to the sculpture and rotating with the water flow; $85,000 for the sculpture itself, made of “weathering” steel; a base for the sculpture, also made of weathering steel, for $30,000; and $3,000 for the hand-blown glass bulbs.
Commissioner Elaine Sims asked Clein about ways to reduce the cost of certain line items, particularly the cost of lighting. She also wanted to see a more detailed breakdown of costs within that line item. Clein said he’d had several long conversations with Dreiseitl about ways to reduce the cost, particularly for lighting and water technology. Ultimately, Clein said, “We felt it would be better to get this one right, rather than do three that weren’t quite there.”
In addition to the elements of the sculpture itself, the budget includes $23,500 in costs associated with re-doing work in the plaza that’s already been finished. For example, foundations that have been poured will have to be modified to support the sculpture and pre-cast concrete water basin, Clein said. Two tall light poles will be taken out and replaced with multiple light fixtures that are lower to the ground. The budget also includes $24,075 for contingencies.
Dreiseitl’s fees for the outdoor sculpture are $140,670, an amount that includes previously paid design work. The fees will also cover the cost of a three-week trip to Ann Arbor for Dreiseitl and an assistant during the sculpture’s assembly next year. Additional budget items include $26,650 to Quinn Evans Architects for project management and technical support, and $37,800 to Conservation Design Forum for consulting on the project.
Outcome: The commission unanimously approved a motion to recommend that the council accept Dreiseitl’s design and budget for the outdoor water sculpture, with the suggestion that further cost savings be explored.
Indoor Wall Art: Police/Courts Lobby
Because Dreiseitl has revised his design for two interior pieces but hasn’t provided drawings of the newest versions, Margaret Parker – AAPAC’s chair – described to commissioners what those changes would be.
An installation on the lobby wall of the police/courts building – part of the municipal center, located west of the current city hall – was originally designed as a panel of steel, but will now be made of dark blue glass. The piece will be smaller than originally conceived, Parker said. A drawing of the Huron River watershed will be etched into the front of the glass – paint might be added to highlight the watershed etching.
The original design included hand-blown blue glass “pearls” – each one lit – that were to be embedded in the steel, highlighting the watershed etching. But because it’s more difficult (and therefore more expensive) to embed the lights into glass, a material that could easily crack, that approach was abandoned, Parker said. Instead, the blue bulbs would hang from the ceiling at varying levels and be lit from above by lights in the ceiling.
Elaine Sims said she wasn’t happy with the design changes. “It sounds real boring to me,” she said. “The ‘wow’ factor is pssh – the air’s gone out of it.”
Moving from a steel to a glass foundation for the piece was the idea of the building’s architectural team, Clein said. They believed that steel conflicted with the other materials used in the building, which were intended to be lighter and transparent. The sense was that steel conveyed the feeling of a fortress, he said, noting that Dreiseitl immediately agreed.
Sims and other commissioners questioned whether the glass “pearls” could be lit internally. Adding a power cord to each light, as well as programming for their operation, would increase costs significantly, Clein said. But without light, commissioner Cheryl Zuellig said, it would be difficult to tell that the opaque bulbs were blue.
Commissioner Jim Curtis suggested trying to find a way to work the lights into the wall panel, possibly by embedding them into a wood backing, to which the glass panel would be affixed. Clein said one problem would be how to replace the lights when they burned out – there’s no way to access the lights in that configuration. Sims asked if fiber optics might work. Clein said he discussed that with Dreiseitl, but that the artist wasn’t keen on the idea, because of the lower light output. That’s true, Sims said, but it’s would be more interesting than just an etching.
Sims also expressed concern that the hanging bulbs would gather dust.
The total budget for this work is $53,843. That includes $10,000 to make 100 blue glass bulbs, $16,000 for the etching on a blue glass panel, and $7,000 for lighting and controls. Dreiseitl’s fee for this piece is $7,815. Quinn Evans Architects would be paid $7,175.
Outcome: The commission passed a motion, with Elaine Sims dissenting, that recommended city council approve the design and budget for this wall installation, with the condition that Dreiseitl develop a satisfactory lighting solution.
Indoor Wall Art: Larcom Building Atrium
In reporting on design changes to Dreiseitl’s second indoor piece, which would be located on the west wall of the atrium in the Larcom Building, Parker said the wall would be made of white plaster, not the steel originally envisioned. The drawing of plant life, showing root structures as well as above-ground flora, would be done in silver paint.
Clein clarified that the actual wall would be gypsum (drywall), and that a thin layer of plaster would be spread over the wall, except on the parts of the wall with the plant life design. The shallow trough created by the design would be filled in with silver paint. As with the other indoor piece, 100 blue glass bulbs would be suspended from the ceiling.
Elaine Sims and Jim Curtis both expressed concerns over the durability of the material. Clein acknowledged that the drywall and plaster would be susceptible to humidity and temperature changes, due to frequent opening and closing of doors to the building, which will be open 24/7.
Cheryl Zuellig objected to the silver-on-white design, saying that it seemed frivolous and “snowflakey” compared to the earth tones of the originally proposed steel material.
Cathy Gendron wondered whether Dreiseitl could do the drawings on panels that could be suspended from the ceiling or affixed to the wall, rather than make the drawings directly on the wall. But Parker said the beauty of these delicate drawings of plant life was that they would seem to emerge from the building itself, incorporated into the materials of the structure.
The budget for this piece is $47,491, which includes $7,815 in fees for Dreiseitl and $7,175 for Quinn Evans.
Outcome: The commission decided to table this item. They plan to hold an additional meeting, at a date to be determined, to discuss alternatives to this proposal – including the possibility of allocating more funding so that Dreiseitl could modify his design and materials. The meeting would also allow more commissioners to be involved – Cathy Gendron said that some of the commissioners who were absent on Monday were unhappy that they couldn’t be part of the discussion. When they meet again, Cheryl Zuellig asked that Parker review how much funding is still available for public art at the municipal center, and what other projects are being considered there, aside from Dreiseitl.
Present: Jim Curtis, Cathy Gendron, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Cheryl Zuellig. Others: Ken Clein, Katherine Talcott, Jean Borger.
Absent: Connie Brown, Marsha Chamberlin, Jim Kern, Jan Onder.