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Dedication of the Colorado Judicial Center

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North Elevation of the new Ralph L Carr Colorado Justicial Center

I spent two days this past week participating in an elaborate dedication ceremony for the new Ralph L Carr Colorado Justicial Center in Denver. Wowhaus was awarded one of the highly competetive public art commissions for the new building, a modernist riff on classical temple architecture featuring a soaring, circular atrium capped with a transparent glass dome. The building was designed by Fentriss Architects, who are probably best know for their now iconic, tensile-tented Denver International Airport.

It wasn’t as easy as you’d think spotting the eight participating artists in an atrium chock full of attorneys, judges, state representatives, clerks, former governors (4) and all of their entourages. Colorado is very proud of its reputation as a renegade state and the majority of its legislative practitioners trend towards Maverick in both style and substance. For every ‘rep’ tie, blue blazer and pair of horn-rimmed glasses there was a goatee, wild mane and bolero. From the many conversations I had over the two days, I found the circuit judges from small rural towns to be the most colorful and candid. One gentleman regaled me with detailed questions about my art practice, then made the bold assertion that what artists and judges have in common is that we are both ‘truth seekers’ by nature.

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A boisterous crowd gathers in the atrium of the new Judicial Center.

I was inspired by the unexpectedly high-minded tenor of the occasion, having given little thought to the life of the building beyond the initial inception for our sculpture that is now knitted into the building’s functional and visual identity. I was equally surprised and delighted by how interested the principle speakers were in the design of the building and integrated artworks, how much they know about every nuance.

Granted, everyone was on their game; the keynote speaker was Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, predeeded by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Colorado Supreme Court Justice Michael Bender, but something about the combined speeches and subsequant conversations rose above mere good form and comportment. Something about the level of enthusiasm for the new building and the artworks it contained, a shared passion for the value of place, beauty and order, convinced me that they really, really meant what they were saying. They truly believed that the Rule of Law is the very pillar of civilization, a sacred if imperfect, hand crafted experiment subject to the vagaries of time, technology and temperment, and that the majesty of the Law, its transparency and logic, could be made manifest in the design and implementation of a building and its contents.

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A view of Tsuru, our cast bronze sculpture integrated into the building’s interior courtyard.

Mostly, the occasion gave me insight into the design-consciousness of the legal mindset, and made me proud to have contributed in some concrete way to the contextual backdrop in the ongoing pursuit of the Rule of Law, however obliquely. The occasion restored my faith in the persistance of narrative, especially in an age of the perpetual Now. I hadn’t realized the extent to which symbols, even physical places and guided experiences in the form of art and architecture can actually carry complex and meaningful narratives, let alone the role these narratives can play in everyday life. Perhaps as we lurch into the perpetual present tense required of us as we negotiate digitally-mediated technologies, media and commerce, we will begin to rely more on the substance and integrity of physical place to frame the narrative and remind us of our better selves in the process.

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To read more about the development of our Tsuru Project for the Ralph L Carr Colorado Judicial Center, click here and scroll down.

 

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Tsuru Update

tsuru pavingI designed a new paving pattern for the 17′ d path surrounding the sculpture

Our Tsuru Project is nearing completion at the new Ralph L Carr Colorado Justicial Center in Denver. The bronze sculpture and stone benches have been installed, and the circular stone path modified to feature granite recycled from the old building, laid on edge to match the other walkways in the bulding’s courtyard. Native grasses planted on the dome of earth surrounding the sculpture should be mature enough for a photo shoot this spring. Mortensen Construction and Demiurge Design have done a stellar job facilitating the project’s installation.

tsuru install1Demiurge Design installing the bronze crane in September (photo by Demiurge)

denver whooping cranesOne of the domed dioramas features the Whooping Crane at Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science

To read more about the development of Tsuru, please click here and scroll down.

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Tsuru Patina

Click here to learn more about Deep Craft Atelier, a pop-up store at Storefront Lab.

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After receiving a bright patina with dark recesses, the bronze is ready to be waxed.

One of the greatest challenges working in bronze is having to manipulate one medium, like clay or wood, to achieve a desired effect in another, often with great spans of time and intricate processes in between. While sculpting the original crane form for our Tsuru Project in wood, I was thinking how the surface texture would look cast in bronze. You can imagine my delight when I finally got a glimpse of the completed sculpture as the patina was being applied by Artworks Foundry in Berkeley. Over six months has lapsed since I carved the original and it’s now ready to be integrated into the landscape at the new Ralph L Carr Justice Center in Denver, surrounded by granite pavings and benches of our own design.

It certainly would have been easier to build the original sculpture in foam or clay, but I wanted its surface to complement my idealized, somewhat primitive depiction of the whooping crane, a symbol of justice and independence in many cultures throughout human history. Though naturalistic in its posture and siting, I want the sculpture to have the iconic presence of devotional sculpture from the ancient world. Continue Reading »

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Tsuru Progress

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Piero prepares to hoist the sculpture into position.

Ene and I finally got to see the fully assembled crane sculpture for our Tsuru Project. Once again, Artworks Foundry has done a masterful job brazing the sculpture’s bronze skin around a superstructure of welded, stainless steel tubing. We’ve decided to give the bird a light golden patina, and the stainless steel support pole a modeled, flat black.

When installed at the new Ralph L Carr Justice Center in Denver later this summer, the bird will appear to be soaring over a circular mound of domed earth, planted with native grasses that will obscure the post, about half of which will be embedded in the mound, connected to a cast concrete footing at grade.

To read more about the development of Tsuru, please click here and scroll down.

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Downtime in Downtown Denver

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Daniel Libeskind designed the new wing of the Denver Art Museum, completed in 2006.

Thanks to Airbnb, Ene and I were able to rent a very cozy apartment in the Capital Hill neighborhood of downtown Denver during our recent three day sojourn. The majority of our Tsuru-related business took place in Denver’s Civic Center, a mile long stretch comprising the city’s major cultural and governmental institutions, so our days consisted of commuting on foot from our brick-faced, art deco apartment building typical of the neighborhood, to a corridor of Starchitecture just down the hill. The daily walk gave us a collapsed sense of the city’s history through its architecture, and we agreed that one of Denver’s most unique attributes is its easy juxtaposition of building styles and scale. As the highest altitude corner of the Great Plains, on the edge of the Rockies and with about 300 days of sunshine annually, Denver is the ideal setting for exuberance in architecture.

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I love the high modern/midieval mashup of Gio Ponti’s wing of the Denver Art Museum, from 1971, his only building in the US; “AS TO BE IN PLAIN SIGHT” by Lawrence Weiner, in the foreground.

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The stairwells in Ponti’s building are sublime.

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Most of the brick-faced apartment buildings have names in Denver’s Capital Hill neighborhood. ‘Helene’ on Pearl Street is a lovely example of vernacular craftsmanship and design.

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Tsuru Update: Denver Site Visit

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The Ralph L Carr Judicial Center designed by Fentress Architects nears completion.

Our public projects always involve an element of collaboration, and Ene and I have learned that it’s a good idea to get everyone together in one place as a project nears completion and timing and coordination become critical. No matter how sophisticated the communications technology, nothing compares to simply shaking hands and looking each other in the eye. Our efforts were well rewarded when we met with the key stakeholders on site at the nearly complete Ralph L Carr Judicial Center in Denver yesterday to discuss timing and strategy for installing our Tsuru sculpture in the building’s West-facing courtyard. We were reassured by the level of professionalism and congeniality of our esteemed crew, and are honored to be working with Denver’s very best on a project designed by the legendary Fentress Architects.

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Ene reviews plans with the key stakeholders in the courtyard where Tsuru is to be sited.

Our Tsuru project features a cast bronze sculpture depicting a crane soaring over a 9′ diameter, domed mound of earth planted with native grasses. We designed four stone benches surrounding the mound at ninety degree intervals, to be fabricated of granite salvaged from the demolished Justice Center that formerly occupied the site. After the meeting adjourned, we drove with Scott Davis of Rock & Company to scope out the stone to be used in making the benches. Rock & Company will be fabricating the benches by laminating the stone slabs and cutting the contours with their giant CNC saw. Scott took some extra time to treat us to a tour of their facilities just outside of Denver, which already has us thinking about future projects.

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Ene and Scott Davis survey salvaged slabs of granite.

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Ene poses by the giant CNC stone saw at Rock & Company in Brighton, Colorado.

To follow the progress of our Tsuru Project, please click here and scroll down.

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Tsuru Progress

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My wooden crane sculpture is ready to be cast in bronze at Berkeley’s Artworks Foundry

I spent the past two days at Artworks Foundry putting final touches on my crane sculpture for our Tsuru project. After permanently connecting the 9′ wingspan to the 8′ body, I focused on patching seams, shaping final contours and finessing surface textures. Coating the entire surface with flat grey metal primer helped reveal any inconsistencies, the primer doubling as a leveling agent on the sculpture’s raised grain. A light sanding over the entire surface softened remaining sharp cuts, burnishing high spots in anticipation of the sculpture’s patina in bronze. I’m especially pleased at how the finished form reads as a clear, clean silhouette from a distance, but reveals more primitive hand-tooling upon closer scrutiny.

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