A New Threshold

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The Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC

Materials & Dimensions:
Cut limestone, native plants and trees, brick, boulders, water

These models were for a proposal for an environmental sculpture to transform the front grounds of the Ackland Art Museum. They were exhibited at the museum in The Spirit of Place: Art, Environment, Community, a group show of finalists’ proposals. The wheel-shaped staircase fountain model was purchased by the museum for its collection.

The site model represents a complete re-grading and rebuilding of the front grounds to provide a more fluid transition from the sidewalk to the museum façade but also to make an emblematic threshold. The existing grounds had acted as a barrier to the museum and were so blandly conventional as to be invisible. I reconfigured the access to become both an embracing threshold and a place to invite lingering in the shade of the trees or sitting on the warm limestone of the steps of the wheel fountain.

Ackland Art Museum whole garden model-
All parts not affected by the proposal were left white. The sloping diagonal paths are brick-paved, herringbone pattern; the walls are dry stone construction of local stone. Green areas represent a variety of dense native ground covers. The trees were to be yellowwood and sourwood trees native to the area. Shrubs would also be local native varieties, bottlebrush buckeye and strawberry bush. Stones located at the corners of the façade and elsewhere represent what would be specimen boulders representative of the geology of the area. The column sections would be limestone.

Detail model of the wheel staircase fountain-
This would have a total diameter of 28 feet and would be of cut limestone. The square top basin has a carved cylinder water source. The water would well from this and flow to the round hub basin with its central limestone boulder, then fall down the hub to a narrow arc basin containing water hyacinths, and finally drain through the stepped triangular basin. Water flow would be balanced so that all basins remained full. The design’s square, circle, and triangle are a synthesis of the formal geometry used for the symbolic portrayal of the universe in a multitude of cultures. The wheel embodies cyclical time. It is also a water wheel although not in the literal sense. Water runs through it to make a living system, connecting the geometry, and suggesting the museum as a wellspring for memory and the reinterpretation of past images. It would be nice to sit on, too.