Dreiseitl Project Moves to City Council

Cost of art project at municipal center grows to $841,541

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.

Elaine Sims and Jim Curtis of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission

Elaine Sims and Jim Curtis of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission at a special meeting on Monday. Sims and Curtis expressed concern about some aspects of Herbert Dreiseitl's revised designs for art in the new municipal center, also know as the police/courts facility. (Photo by the writer.)

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.

Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects, project manager for the Dreiseitl art installations.

Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects, project manager for the Dreiseitl art installations. (Photo by the writer.)

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.


A drawing of what Herbert Dreiseitl's water sculpture would look like upon completion. It would be located in a plaza on the Huron Street side of the new municipal center, next to a planned rain garden.

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.

Margaret Parker, chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, looks over drawings by Herbert Dreiseitl before the start of a special meeting on Monday night at the City Center Building's 7th floor conference room.

Margaret Parker, chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, looks over drawings by Herbert Dreiseitl before the start of a special meeting on Monday night at the City Center Building's 7th floor conference room. (Photo by the writer.)

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.

Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects holds up some blue glass balls to show how they'd look when hit by light. The balls are part of a proposed art installation at the new police/courts facility.

Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects holds up some blue glass balls to show how they'd look when hit by light. The balls are part of a proposed art installation at the new municipal center. (Photo by the writer.)

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.


  1. By ROB
    October 21, 2009 at 4:57 pm | permalink

    This entire boondoggle is an outrage – a squandering a scarce public funds that are sorely needed for basic services and projects. One need only read recent local headlines to see the extent of the mismanagement and neglect. I, for one, will be voting against any candidate in the next election who supports this nonsense. If it is constructed, I bet it ends up costing twice as much to complete and twice as much to maintain, as projected. Unbelievable.

  2. By Jack F.
    October 21, 2009 at 6:08 pm | permalink

    “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.”

    “Present: Jim Curtis, Cathy Gendron, Margaret Parker, Elaine Sims, Cheryl Zuellig.

    How perfectly fitting this article appears on the Ann Arbor Chronicle website next to the A2 Council Meeting piece on sheltering the homeless this winter. Every single member of the task force who voted yes on this-Ray Detter, Bob Grese, Margaret Parker, Laura Rubin, Margie Teall, and Spring Tremaine–should be ashamed to walk down the street and so should very AAPAC members who showed up for the meeting.

    I will do EVERYTHING in my power to make sure Margie Teall is tossed out of office next November, if she runs for reelection. I’ll do the same for anyone on city council who votes for this as well.

    This makes me sick to my stomach and so does not reflect Ann Arbor values.

  3. By Rod Johnson
    October 21, 2009 at 6:12 pm | permalink

    Can I just say… *argh.* This is like something you’d see in a mall. It’s the size of a slide! Spinal Tap city.

  4. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 21, 2009 at 6:34 pm | permalink

    So Margie Teal could show up to vote for THIS but not her council meeting later that evening to address the homeless?

    I guess that says it all.

  5. By suswhit
    October 21, 2009 at 7:57 pm | permalink

    I’ve still not heard an answer to the question of whether the “world’s largest urinal” will function during the many months of below-freezing temps in Ann Arbor. Hello? Anyone? For the million it’s going to end up costing, you would think that the people involved would know the answer to that simple question.

  6. By Bob Martel
    October 22, 2009 at 10:28 am | permalink

    I think that in the interest of good taste and common decency, the art project should be put on hold for a few years. Spending nearly $850,000 on a discretionary item such as this now is ill advised. I know that someone will come out of the woodwork and point out that these are “capital dollars” that are “earmarked” or “encumbered” for this purpose and they cannot be used to feed the homeless or employ the jobless, but this is like driving your stretch BMW 760Li through the poorest part of town on a hot summer day holding up your jar of Grey Poupon, with the AC on full, and the CD blasting classical music while sneering at the residents sweltering on their porches.

  7. October 22, 2009 at 11:08 am | permalink

    Jack F., the role of the commission is to make a recommendation based on their mission, not to do city council’s job of looking at the broader context, such as the economic or homeless situation(s). Council will make the final decision. Please stop bad-mouthing citizen volunteers for doing what they were asked to do.

    Suswhit, if you care enough to know the answer to your question, I suggest that you contact someone who might know, directly. Posting a comment here is not likely to get you what you want from other regular commenters, who seem to have other agendas. Or maybe you’re hoping that one of the maligned commissioners would chime in? At best, Mary might find time to make your phone call for you (as she has generously followed up on questions posed here by me and others), but I wouldn’t ever expect such a service.

  8. October 22, 2009 at 11:28 am | permalink

    Thanks Steve (#7): Thanks for taking the time to answer more anonymous writers. I’m rapidly solidifying the view that anonymous writers are typified by weak thought processes.

  9. October 22, 2009 at 11:35 am | permalink

    Thanks to Bob Martel for saying what so many of us were feeling and saying it so well.

    I don’t buy the argument that these dollars are encumbered or sequestered. How they should be used instead is a matter of policy that can be decided in a different discussion. Local governments continually move money around from fund to fund.

  10. By Bob Martel
    October 22, 2009 at 12:40 pm | permalink

    Steve, Even thought you did not specifically address my comment in your latest response, my comment was not meant to demean the role of the volunteers on the citizen’s committee. I appreciate their efforts (having served on such committees before) and I hope that none of them took offense at my comments. I presumed that my comments were/are directed at the individuals who will be making the economic decision to proceed with his project, which I assume is City Council. Perhaps they can take time out from the Argo Dam decision to consider putting the City Hall art project on hold until better times return?

  11. By Bob Martel
    October 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm | permalink

    Oh, and Steve, I totally agree with you that anonymous comments are by and large unhelpful. I’ve spoken with Mary about these in the past and she did acknowledge that she and Dave had given this some thought when they set up the site. So far the anonymous posters on this site have been somewhat more respectful and on topic than those at Annarbor.com where I have ceased posting (and by and large ceased reading as well) due to the plethora of anonymous blowhards on that site. But, if you want the best (or worst) example of the negative impact of anonymous posting, check out the Free Press site, OMG!

    I know this post is somewhat off topic, so I apologize for this in advance in case I have offended anyone!

  12. October 22, 2009 at 1:07 pm | permalink

    I don’t care if others post anonymously–that’s their business. How I respond (or not) is my business. I also don’t care what others think about my comments. Once I submit them they’re out of my hands.

    I don’t see much correlation between anonymity and helpfulness of comments. The ego works in mysterious ways, and most of our minds are confused most of the time, name tag or no.

    To bring this back on topic, I encourage readers to submit to the commission examples of public art from other cities that they like for their consideration, as well as ideas for sites in town to put artwork.

  13. By Mary Morgan
    October 22, 2009 at 1:49 pm | permalink

    Suswhit [#5] – I queried Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects regarding your question. He reports that the water would be turned off during the winter months, so as not to damage the sculpture or the piping. The lights in the sculpture would run year-round.

  14. By suswhit
    October 22, 2009 at 4:34 pm | permalink

    Thanks Mary. That’s exactly the answer I was expecting and I appreciate that the question was posed to someone involved. – Susan

  15. By Glenn Thompson
    October 22, 2009 at 6:46 pm | permalink

    I agree with Bob Martel, the project should be reconsidered or at least postponed.

    However several of our Council members were deliberately rolling up the windows and opening the Grey Poupon.

    From Marcia Higgins
    To Leigh Greden
    December 15, 2008 7:15 PM

    What happened at meeting today that put Art in Public Places on the agenda?

    From Leigh Greden
    To Marcia Higgins
    December 15, 2008 7:19 PM

    We needed a roll-out and reminder to new Members and the public about the Art program several weeks before we roll out the PD/Courts art plan, and today was chosen because (1) the Agenda is light and (2) 1/5 is too close to the 1/10 retreat at which the world will know about the budget cuts.

  16. By Tom Whitaker
    October 22, 2009 at 8:35 pm | permalink

    Walking home from dinner the other night we passed “The Cube” next to the UM Admin. building. My 11-year-old son ran over and gave it a big push, going around and around until he had to stop and rest. I remembered doing the same thing when I first moved to Ann Arbor at age 17, some thirty years ago.

    It struck me how perfect this public art piece was for its location: an open, but not particularly busy plaza tucked between campus buildings. It is all-season, interactive, and virtually indestructible. I imagine that UM Plant Operations has to give it a little grease now and then, but probably not much else. No fancy lights, no glass balls, no piping, no water, no pumps or motors. Sustainability is inherent in its simplicity, its durability, and its accessibility. It sits there quietly on point, handsome and still, just waiting for someone to come along and set it into motion. Then its true beauty is revealed as it catches and reflects the light from its irregular faces.

    I wonder how much it cost?

  17. By Cosmonican
    October 22, 2009 at 10:08 pm | permalink

    A the risk of being a useless anonymous blabbermouth, the illustration at top of this article showing the finished work looks good: for everything except the minimalist/over-priced fountain FUBAR project.

    The green space to the east is worth keeping, if the paved plaza could incorporate existing art for a sculpture garden, even retaining a reflecting pool but without the fountain. Works that come to mind would include Gerry Kamrowski’s mosaics from city hall, which I believe are currently without a home; the equine sculpture offered by Garo Kazan (Chronicle, 10/14/09); any other orphan works the city may have should all be considered for the space. A good designer should be able to work out a plan in half a day.

    I would love to see part of that be the Henry Moore inspired whale that used to be at Arborland; had a lot of fun playing on that long ago, kids today would too. I believe it is in private hands, but still in the area; can’t cost too much considering what it is.

  18. By Sarah Okuyama
    October 24, 2009 at 10:57 pm | permalink

    I couldn’t agree more that this art project be put on hold for a more properous time. Good Grief!! Also, in this time when Michigan is struggling so hard why this artist???? Are we so concerned with status that we had to choose a “renowned ” artist.. Why not choose an unknown but wonderful MICHIGAN artist ??? One fresh out of the University of Michigan art school or school of architecture!!!Hard to believe that we don’t have someone wonderful in our own backyard….

  19. By Rod Johnson
    October 27, 2009 at 2:22 pm | permalink

    Tom, I wish I could “like” comments here. That was good.

  20. By Tom Whitaker
    October 27, 2009 at 4:59 pm | permalink

    The cost of The Cube to UM was apparently zero (although I can’t be sure there wasn’t some site prep cost). The Cube, “Endover” was a gift from the Class of 1965 and also the artist, Tony Rosenthal, UM alumnus ’36. It was installed in 1968. (Info from UM AEC’s website.)

    UM’s cube is actually only one of at least four similar Rosenthal cubes in existence. One, nicknamed “Alamo,” is installed in Astor Place in the East Village (NYC). Another is in the Martin Z. Marguiles Sculpture Park in Southwest Miami. A third, smaller version is installed at Connecticut College in New London.

    Tony Rosenthal passed away on July 28, 2009, at age 94. His website has photos of his numerous public art works.

  21. By Mary Morgan
    October 27, 2009 at 5:11 pm | permalink

    Tom, thanks for the information about Tony Rosenthal. Here’s a link to the website you mentioned.

  22. By jcp2
    October 27, 2009 at 5:22 pm | permalink

    I’ve turned the cube in Astor Place many a time. I’ll give the U of M one a try in the spring.

  23. By suswhit
    October 27, 2009 at 7:36 pm | permalink

    JCP2: Why wait until spring??!! The cube works ALL YEAR! (wink, wink)

  24. By jcp2
    October 27, 2009 at 9:25 pm | permalink

    Well, the Astor Place cube didn’t work that well once the weather got colder. I think they didn’t grease the pivot point that often. Perhaps maintenance on the U of M cube is better.

  25. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 28, 2009 at 8:06 am | permalink

    I guess it’s only fitting that an ad for a Washtenaw County foreclosure auction shows up on this page with this article about the Herbert Dreiseitl.

  26. By Buddy
    October 28, 2009 at 10:56 am | permalink

    Funny you should mention the Arborland whale. Here’s the story on what happened to it and where it is now: Link to Livingstontalk.com article

  27. By yet another
    October 28, 2009 at 6:11 pm | permalink

    The ‘rain garden’ on the right in the artist’s rendering up above looks just big enough to host a dense, urban tent city. (Though it’s unclear just how damp that grass-like surface will be and how much plastic or Gore-Tex it will require.) Yet, when looking at it, I’m reminded of the press coverage this past summer on the extended camp-out organized behind Arborland and elsewhere. That was a practical action which also called attention to the otherwise hidden issue of ongoing homelessness.

    In the years ahead, our national economy will continue to fade — no longer can the U.S. spend its way out of recession; our means of consumer debt are overextended, tapped out. In the bleak economic landscape of the future, as housing-related protests grow increasingly bold over time, this outdoor public location off Huron holds much potential as a downtown venue for high-profile community actions.

    The plaza to the left provides open space for demos, press events and picnics, where us locals might one day mingle with tent squatters resident in the garden area. The sculpture (with fountain?) offers a steady water source in addition to welcome relief on hot days. While rather pricey for what you get, it should do the trick. Long Live Sculpture City! Try to stay dry.

    In regard to the sculpture’s financial controversy, I quite honestly don’t understand why the public relations geniuses sitting on our City Council didn’t simply reduce the paved plaza area by a respectable square footage, extend the garden section accordingly, and rechristen this entire front area along Huron St. as the official Larcom Downtown Full Greenway Extension. Granted, city hall is an uphill climb from the nearby Allen Creek hollow, but why not present this open space as a vision of our green urban future to come (eventually with homestead tents, to fully complete the picture).

    If thus City Council had slyly brought the local greenway activists into their corner — those folks who can reliably be counted on to vociferously shout down any & all complainers among the voting public — Council would render as politically meaningless any public expense incurred via working with Dreiseitl. No more controversy! Of course, it always remains wise to hold off final purchase until after the holiday season, when the sculpture can be had for a discount.

  28. By Joe
    November 2, 2009 at 10:15 pm | permalink

    I agree with Sarah.
    Why did you have to pick a german artist?
    There are plenty of artist’s here in Michigan who could create something better.
    What about thinking LOCAL First!
    Ann Arbor Art committee you should be ashamed of yourselves.