Client: Iowa Department of Transportation
Location: Johnson County, IA, United States
Completion date: 2010
Artwork budget: $230,000
RDG Dahlquist Art Studio
Iowa Department of Transportation
RDG Planning & Design
Graphics and Multimedia
RDG Planning & Design
Iowa Metal Fabrication
Mulvihill Art Works
Becker & Becker Stone Company
Entitled “It Has Iowa Written All Over It,” the comprehensive public art installation for the Iowa Department of Transportation Rest Area in Johnson County, speaks to the significant contribution of literature from Iowa to the world. An iconic “pen nib” sculpture dramatically marks the entrance to the building. The “written word” is integrated throughout the building and site in many three-dimensional forms: large-scale metal “calligraphy” on the facade, functional shade structures, lighting, digital messaging, custom glazed terra cotta, epoxy terrazzo floor mural, wooden “type” blocks and more.
Johnson County is the home of the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, “the first creative writing degree program in the US and the model for contemporary writing programs” across the country. Poets, authors, playwrights, technical and scholastic writers with Iowa connections have been awarded more than 40 Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards and other honors. The integrated artwork welcomes the visitor into a site-specific “story” that focuses on both the act of writing, as well as the meaning within. Words, in a variety of forms, celebrate the designation of Iowa City as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The purposeful integration of the artwork functions on many levels. The Rest Area is an important opportunity for making the best “first impression” for the traveling public. Few people realize the presence of the Writer’s Workshop or the incredible legacy of literature in Iowa. Instead of traditional “museum” setting, the artwork touches the visitor in a myriad of ways; in texture, in shadow, in expressive sculpture, in movement, and interpretive text. The artwork successfully embodies one of the primary objectives for the project, the seamless and cohesive connection between the architecture of the building and site, with the underlying concept or narrative theme.
Public art is a process that depends upon collaboration and relationship building. The design team for this project has a long history of working together, from early concept development, through detail construction documents, to fabrication and installation, including the construction of the building and site. The result of this collaboration is such that one cannot imagine the architecture of the building without seeing and feeling the underlying concept, the site-specific story that is at the heart of the project location.
This project evolved from many layers of multi-disciplinary design including public artists, architects, landscape architects, engineers, and owner representatives. But this project also included a unique additional component, namely working with the writers, faculty and students from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop to select passages of literature that would appear in changing, programmable text within the building. The integrated artwork is made of many different sculptural materials, by hand through RDG Dahlquist Art Studio and an extensive network of collaborative fabricators, including digital graphic and information technology consultants.
The project is one in a series of new, site-specific Rest Areas and Welcome Centers for the Iowa Department of Transportation. The integrated public art installation for Johnson County, based on history and literature, has led to an increased awareness, appreciation, and visitorship at the site, and contributed to the cultural tourism of the region. It has also made a new and positive connection to the University of Iowa for people visiting the state.