Alluvial Decoder (City of Raleigh Storm Memorial) - CODAworx

Alluvial Decoder (City of Raleigh Storm Memorial)

Client: Raleigh Arts / Raleigh Stormwater (City of Raleigh)

Location: Raleigh, NC, United States

Completion date: 2022

Artwork budget: $50,000

Project Team

Co-Lead Artist

William H. Dodge

A Gang of Three

Co-Lead Artist

Lincoln Hancock

A Gang of Three

Co-Lead Artist

Will Belcher

A Gang of Three


Raleigh Arts

City of Raleigh


Raleigh Stormwater

City of Raleigh

Fabricator / Installer

Cricket Forge

Cricket Forge


Luke Buchanan


Signage Fabricator

Ryan Pound

RAD Graphics


Terrain of memory:
Alluvial Decoder is a project about shared urban memory – part public art, part urban realm, part landscape design. Its central function is to decode the chapters of Crabtree Creek’s flood history. It does this through a system of rudimentary yet deliberately placed markers, collectively transcribing the site’s resilience over time.

Crabtree Valley has been vulnerable to flooding since 1972, when the site was developed into a shopping mall. Damaging floods in 1972 and 1973 preceded a slew of hurricanes, from Fran to Floyd, as well as other tropical storms and sudden rain events – each regularly overwhelming Crabtree Creek. These flooding events have caused extensive property damage, injuries, and deaths.


A network of protection:
Alluvial Decoder is designed to (and does) flood. Twenty-five vertical, steel, color-coded pylons line the city greenway path adjacent to the creek, forming a file of markers along the flood-compromised banks. Graphic elements appear in the creek’s underpass, decoding the elements visitors encounter along the path. The markers signal historic flood heights, simultaneously standing as part of a network of implicit wayfinding within a zone ceaselessly at risk of immersion. The flood markers and the corresponding mural function as decoder data tool, as narrators of the site’s story, and as a wider alert system within the native meadow when flooding occurs.

Awakening native value:
The project’s landscape and wider planning strategy has been conceived to improve stormwater resiliency in the area, promote biodiversity across a rejuvenated meadow, and to encourage conscientious development at the site over time. It creates a natural riparian zone along the bank adjacent to the trail. The project’s landscape design ambition was never to deliver an overtly manicured or grandiose gesture. Conversely, its aim has been to gently amplify ecological awareness among site visitors, passers-by, and the wider city overall.


More for less:
Alluvial Decoder makes accessible the history of the flooding at the site, amplifying awareness of its susceptibility to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The scheme helps visitors understand why floodplains matter, and why they must be protected through policy and stormwater management. Urban design projects this scale typically have budgets in high hundreds of thousands or millions of $USD. The Alluvial Decoder project, which covers and reorganizes nearly two acres of landscape, was delivered for $50,000 – inclusive of all design and contractor fees.

The word ‘alluvial’ refers to geology made up of sand and earth left by the passing water of floods or rivers. This project reflects this meaning, and is intended to be shaped further by the people, wildlife and nature that will coalesce at its banks over time. It tells a story of both endurance and pliability – in its distinct physical manifestation, and in its economic approach to both design and construction. Alluvial Decoder is a design of community, of climate and planetary awareness, of modesty, and of frank, shared experience.

All design and construction work was performed pro bono in an effort to maximize both the project impact and quality.

Additional Information

"Alluvial Decoder is an excellent example of how public art can be created to educate and invite conversation surrounding critical issues. Investing in artists to create a visual storytelling experience is one of the best ways cities can communicate a message and meaningfully engage our communities. The impact of an immersive experience in particular is much greater than simply printing a sign or telling a story. As an artwork, Alluvial Decoder was designed with careful attention to concept, aesthetics, and the history surrounding the site - all while being executed on an extraordinarily tight budget and with significant site constraints." - Kelly McChesney, Public Art Director, Raleigh Arts --------------------------------------------- AWARDS / RECOGNITION 2023 International Award for Public Art (shortlisted, awaiting results) 2023 Architect’s Newspaper Editors’ Pick, AN’s Best of Design Awards - Landscape 2023 Google Geo for Good Impact Award 2023 American Planning Association (NC) Great Places in North Carolina Award - Public Art 2023 American Planning Association (NC) Great Places in North Carolina Award - Transformation 2023 American Institute of Architects (NC) North Carolina Merit Award 2022 Raleigh Medal of Arts (1st project ever awarded in 40+ years)