Stations designed with art in mind
By Jeff Ristine
July 3, 2005
When Michael Davis was hired to create public art for the San Diego Trolley's new $7.1 million Grantville station, he found himself thinking on a grand scale.
At the architect's invitation, Davis took a leading role in the design of the entire structure, a platform 40 feet above street level, facing the relentless rush of cars and trucks along Interstate 8.
Instead of sculptures or other familiar touches, Davis said, "we started to think of a far bigger picture for the station itself, and trying to turn (it) into a work of art."
The result was a station design that pays tribute to shipbuilding and aviation, using curves drawn from the shapes of hulls and wings, among other influences.
As the first of four new stations heading east on the trolley system's 5.8-mile extension, Grantville immediately shows light-rail passengers just how far the Metropolitan Transit System wanted to get from the undistinguished catalog-quality benches and canopies that typify previous stops.
Public art was incorporated into the planning for all four stations before any dirt was turned.
"Basically what we told them (was) we don't want stand-alone art pieces," said project manager Jim Hecht. "We wanted to take the (usual) elements of the stations and make them unique."
Here's a look at each station, the artists and their ideas:
The highest platform in the trolley system is the only one designed to stand out at night. Davis, who lives in San Pedro, wanted a station "that would create some sort of beacon an icon for the location."
When a World War II veteran at a community meeting suggested using a U.S. flag, the artist started thinking of a more durable approach. His answer was a system of red, white and blue lighting on the platform, the underside and its columns.
The platform canopies have a winglike shape. Paving on the plaza at a high-speed, high-capacity elevator resembles a magnetic compass. There are portholes in the open-mesh railings.
And Davis said he used other ship-like shapes to evoke a feeling of "safe harbor" in a typically isolated transit station.
The showcase station of the Green Line opens onto Aztec Green, a landscaped refuge on the campus that has been completely regraded into a system of radiating terraces.
Artist Anne Mudge of Carlsbad, inspired partly by comments from students on the value of diversity on campus, said one of her first ideas was to draw attention to the underground location, a first for the trolley system.
She incorporated stainless-steel "taproots" that descend from the ceiling as if an extension of trees planted up top.
They are made from inch-thick industrial cable that has been unraveled and rewoven, lending itself to what Mudge calls "an infinite number of designs this great diversity of expression."
For the floor pattern, she designed steppingstone pavers to break up a curving flow of bricks. Each one features symbols depicting an academic discipline at SDSU, from a formula for glucose (chemistry) to the better-known masks of comedy and tragedy(theater).
"It's fine with me if people don't quite pinpoint what they're representing at first," Mudge said. "People have a lot of time to while away down there."
Alvarado Medical Center
"Arteries, veins and capillaries "
So begins Encanto artist Roman de Salvo's elaborate, three-part riddle, composed in a poetically precise meter and engraved on what would normally be considered an imposing retaining wall between the station and I-8.
Trolley passengers will need to walk from one end of the platform to the other to read the full text, "strolling up and down on the investigation," as de Salvo put it. The bench canopies are transparent to allow easier reading from the north side.
"The construction workers ?they all solved it," the artist said. "But people that I've brought there, no one has been able to solve it quickly. I have a feeling it's not going to be a slam dunk."
Nor will it be easy to peek at the solution, provided on a handrail at the far end of the station. It's imprinted in Braille.
A visual riddle with an answer accessible mainly to the blind? The irony is intentional: "I wanted to keep it challenging," de Salvo explained.
Riders of public transit are generally thought to be making an
Normally the rocks excavated from Alvarado Creek, which runs below
She insisted that the landscaping be done with native, drought-tolerant
plants rather than "exotics or grasses that basically use our
drinking water." The plants are identified with cast-metal plaques,
hand-made to convey a sense of spoken
Benches and some of the paving treatments are made from recycled household plastic and glass. "If we see where it winds up," Karavasiles said, "it becomes more of an inspiration" to recycle.
Thirty-six lightpost bases at the station feature quotations, many touching on transportation and the environment. ("The car is the greatest problem for architecture." Walter Gropius, a German architect)
An arrangement of blue-light-emitting diodes calls attention to the
creek, and the temporary displays in a historic map case will begin
with a list of workers involved in the construction of the station,
alphabetized by first name. "That's the way workers know each
other," Karavasiles said.