Client: Oakland Public Art Program

Location: Oakland, CA, United States

Completion date: 2019

Artwork budget: $200,000

Project Team

Industry Resource

Tipping Mar Structural Engineers


Damon Tighe

Citizen Scientist





Celebrating the ecological and cultural significance of Oakland’s watershed and famous urban estuary, an iconic 17’ l bronze sea monster sculpture evokes an Ohlone myth about a monster that lived in this urban estuary known as Lake Merritt. Inviting playful interaction and imaginative play, the sculpture anchors a rain garden that reclaims water in a park in the heart of Oakland. Photo-etched granite plates with text are integrated into hardscape by the estuary, offering insight into the ecosystem and urban watershed. Makkeweks is an homage to the Lake’s restoration and a harkening of the return of native fauna, an homage to a sea monster, perhaps as imagined by the Ohlone or early European settlers, or future generations.


The goal of this artwork was to offer insight into the natural and cultural history of Lake Merritt urban saltwater estuary, fostering stewardship and awareness of the local ecosystem and urban watershed. Another goal was to create an engaging, playful art experience; the highly tactile, durable surface of the bronze invites interaction and will only improve with age and use as children climb and play on Makkeweks. The sculpture establishes the rain garden as a focal point of this public park and plaza in the heart of Oakland, fostering awareness of the vital role the rain garden plays in reclaiming urban runoff and contributing to the vitality of the urban watershed.


In an integrated design approach, WOWHAUS sited the artwork in the Rain Garden as a "habitat" for the sculpture. Part of a new sustainable "Green Streets" initiative, the Rain Garden captures urban runoff; sited amidst the reeds in the garden, the Makkeweks sea monster will appear to hover over the water in the rainy season. Close collaboration with PlaceWorks Landscape Design and Oakland Department of Public Works ensured that artwork was aesthetically integrated with plantings and hardscape. WOWHAUS collaborated with a local citizen scientist who gave us photos of the actual creatures that inhabit the lake; these images - with rates of magnification and scientific names engraved in the surrounding portals - offer unique insight into the ecosystem of an urban estuary that few are aware of.

Additional Information

Featured in the global "Art of Resilience" online exhibition showcasing artists worldwide whose work grapples with issues of climate change, this artwork was recognized for its unique approach to ecology and climate change in the realm of public art.

The original sculpture was hand-carved in cork at full scale in order to achieve a unique, highly tactile texture throughout the piece. Cork is a sustainable, recyclable alternative to the foam typically used as a form for cast bronze sculpture; WOWHAUS has pioneered the use of this ecologically responsible material in multiple sculpture commissions.