Project Type: Mixed-use development
Location: Friendship Heights, Chevy Chase, MD
Description: Working with project architects Arrowstreet, Inc., CRJA developed a comprehensive master plan for this nine-acre urban mixed-use development that includes a mix of retail, office, and residential spaces, a community center, underground parking, two public parks, extensively landscaped public plazas, streetscapes, and commissioned public art by Athena Tacha. The plan evolved over several years through a collaborative dialogue with Montgomery County citizens and public agencies, as well as development teams for adjacent urban development projects.
After two years of construction observation, I was amazed to finally witness the public art installation by Athena Tacha fully operational. The dynamic sense of scale to the three-part light installation animates the project once the sun sets. Here is an excerpt from Tacha’s artist statement:
Starting with the names of the three avenues that prominently frame the development - Wisconsin, Western and Willard - and its logo and color scheme, I conceived three eye-catching, moving LED features along the two crossing pedestrian axes:
The Light Obelisk on the fountain (referring to both the Metro signposts and Washington’s Memorial) rises 25 feet as the focus at the crossing of the axes — from the main street corner to Bloomingdale’s, and, through the Light Riggings activating the Arcade, to the office and condominium towers — and, down to the 35-foot WWW-Tower, the culminating beacon at the Willard entrance. Arrowstreet architect Brad Edgerly termed the complex a “Light Avenue” hinting at Paris’ Champs Elysées or New York’s Times Square.
Landscape Design Principles
The site design team led by Arrowstreet Design Principal Brad Edgerly and CRJA’s Bill Taylor established these four principles:
1. Distance – Conceptually, public art needed to be seen from two distances. It needed to be seen from over 100 feet away so that people exiting the Metro station and crossing nearby intersections would be drawn into the site but also focus attention around the immediate retail core formed by an elliptical building mass.
2. Time – public art should be most successful at prime retail hours as well as different seasons.
3. Space – The landscape and architecture should act as a frame for the public art by reinforcing the artful qualities of the work and so that it is not seen as a foreign object within the space.
4. Place – Through integrating the overall space with public art, hopefully a sense of place is accomplished for those who shop and live in Friendship Heights.
The collaboration between artist and landscape architect and architect involved CRJA’s initial sketches of the ellipsoid design sent to Athena Tacha for her review. She sent back a series of three elegantly simple sketches that accented the elongated nature of the ellipse through a lotus flower like paving pattern centered around the fountain and obelisk. As she states:
The plaza’s pavement, an homage to Michelangelo’s Campidoglio Piazza in Rome of a similar oval shape, is inspired by curvilinear W’s that stem out of the central fountain like petals of a giant bloom - with six of the “petals” becoming planters surrounded by stone benches.
Because of the artist’s effort to reinforce the axis from the South Court to Willard Circle, the installation serves as a strong place-making device, drawing pedestrians through three distinct retail and office zones. Tacha’s piece truly brings the development to life.
by Travis Ewen