The Grand Canyons of La Jolla - CODAworx

The Grand Canyons of La Jolla

Submitted by Brailsford Public Art

Client: Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans

Location: La Jolla, CA, United States

Completion date: 2019

Artwork budget: $800,000

Project Team


Robin Brailsford

Brailsford Public Art


Wick Alexander

Brailsford Public Art


Kelsy Hartley

Brailsford Public Art, Journeyman Artist


Mariah Armstrong Conner

Brailsford Public Art, Journeyman Artist


Walter Munk

Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans


Cammie Ingram

Scripps Institute of Oceanography

Landscape Architect

Leslie Ryan


Team Mary Munk


Ron Shaw

Shaw and Sons

Shaw and Sons

Javier Garcia and Team

Master Concrete Finishers


The Grand Canyons of La Jolla is the largest contiguous Plaza Monolithic Mosaic (aka LithoMosaic) to date. Located on the boardwalk at La Jolla Shores Beach, in San Diego, California, it is 2350 square feet of glass, stone and porcelain tile depicting over 100 life-size sea creatures, three deep-sea canyons and the tides and currents that flow over them. Designed by Robin Brailsford and working with artist Wick Alexander, two working artists, and dozens of deep-sea experts from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, we were honored to have the Father of Modern Oceanography, Walter Munk, and the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans. as our inspiration, collaborator, and client.

There are 17 layers to the bathyscaphe and 5 for the topography. An extremely difficult problem to master – there are two scales: the life-size fish and the 5-mile reach of the canyons depicted. The animals are seen as if looking at, and the canyons as if looking down. To further keep the challenges high, Walter’s diagrams of the ocean waves and deflections are depicted in the lines and cold joints and saw cut in the concrete. The pattern of tile in the ocean areas follows the flow of Walter’s drawings.


At the most idyllic, and thus popular beach in San Diego California, the goal was simple - to give the hundreds of thousands of local, and International yearly visitors a kinetic sense of wonder and beauty for the bright surface of the Cove down to active tectonic, pitch black dark canyons below. Tech experts are working with biologists now, on an app so that from one's phone, whose camera is focused on a shark, for instance, will transfer the viewer to video of the shark in its habitat, and other fascinating details. Some of these fish can breath air, walk on the fins, electrocute their prey or travel thousands of miles. All are depicted life size, and we purposely worked to make the plaza timeless - roads are minimal, Kumeaay villages and climate change are inferred.


When first approached with the commission, the clients had no aspirations of including Walter’s landmark 1947 paper, “The Grand Canyons of La Jolla,” nor were they hoping for more than 50 fish, had no predators, no whale, no humans and only 12 levels to the canyons. For us, the opportunity was too great to just create a benign “The Map,” (for divers) that they proposed.

As kismet would have it, it seems we achieved all to stunning results. The play of light over the matte and glass tiles is eerily like the surface of the water, yet the depth of the canyons can clearly be understood. The Helen Browning Scripps Pier gives the landscape an immediate scale and the skill of the artists (Robin as Lead, and on odd or big fishes like a whale, skates, and sunfish: Wick on sharks and all fish that are fast; Kelsy Hartley on birds, and Mariah Armstron Conner on color palette and water.) Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, as all pitched in on everything, but as in ancient mosaics, the hand of each artist can be seen with that direction.

Additional Information

We in part achieved the blues when Kelsy realized that our Dulzura studio, where we were making the fish, would not be big enough to lay out the whole map - and so Cammie Ingram of Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) stepped up, and donated the old NOAA arte brute concrete building on the cliffs above the Shores to us for a studio. This full span 4000’ studio gave us the best views of the surface of the Cove and allowed us to see Walter Munk and his international host of exceptional colleagues almost daily in the studio. For his WWII work predicting the waves at beaches of Normandy, he last year received the French Legion of Honor. He was friends with the Dali Lama and the Pope. He lived and worked at SIO for over 80 years, he was their first graduate student, a true gentleman and the most renowned of colleagues. Walter died last year at 101, this was his last major project. Because of COVID, the project is not yet open to the public.