Client: Arts Huntsville
Location: Huntsville, AL, United States
Completion date: 2022
Artwork budget: $421,000
The Art Studio
RDG Planning & Design
City of Huntsville
Raker Rhodes Engineering, LLC
Johnson Machine Works, Inc.
Coating / Painting
Quincy Industrial Painting Company, Inc.
Renaissance Design, Inc.
Dunlap Contracting, Inc.
Traveler’s Plaza at Big Spring Park is grounded in Huntsville’s history while celebrating the city’s trajectory into the future. The word “traveler” has several associations. The floors of Huntsville’s historic textile mills are embedded with thousands of ring travelers that once twisted raw fiber into finished thread. In addition, Huntsville’s identity is entwined with the history and the future of space travel. And today, as a global STEM center, Huntsville leads the world as we travel into a tech-driven future. At Traveler’s Plaza, a series of uniquely shaped arching metal forms create two semispherical dome-like spaces and a threshold experience drawing visitors into the park. Within the interior spaces are artist designed Traveler’s Benches in the shape of the ring traveler that together create a place to pause drawing you in to gather, rest, or socialize.
The goals for this installation were to create a gateway experience along the southern edge of Big Spring Park, Huntsville’s downtown signature park, historic ‘big spring’, and cultural center - transforming an existing walk and plaza space into a welcoming place and invitation to wander into the park. The installation also serves as a framing element from the interior of the park drawing visitors to explore a growing mixed use urban area along the edge of the park creating connections both to and from the park.
The arch forms, each uniquely shaped, are arranged in an elliptical progression conveying both circumference and center as a metaphorical reference to the dome of the celestial sky and a historical belief of the membrane where the stars and the sun were thought to be located delineating a boundary between the earthly and the heavenly. In the daytime, the installations cast dramatic shadows that shift with the sun and recall the earth’s trajectory through the heavens. At dusk, the spheres glow as beacons illuminated by in-grade LED fixtures, drawing you in to explore. The installation creates intimate gathering spaces within the plaza while maintaining far reaching views to Big Spring Park and beyond.
Our process is guided by three principles we carefully attend to in all the work: Story | Structure | Site.
Story. Understanding story leads our effort. We engage in site-specific research, artistic fact finding, stakeholder interviews, community interactions & site visits, critical to a project. Project committee members introduced us to Huntsville, its historic cultural textures, and allowed us to experience a wide range of both contemporary and historic perspectives from which to discover a narrative expressing the energy and trajectory of this place.
Structure. We believe that every public art installation should have an element of usefulness, inviting to touch, to sit upon, to walk through or be sheltered by the work. Discovery of “ring travelers’ a ‘C’ shaped metal cast off from the fiber mills embedded in the floors provided the inspiration for the conversational gathering bench form.
Site. Each installation is site specific to the physical & cultural nuances of a given location, real & symbolic, historic & contemporary with consideration to human scale & orientation regarding natural light & illumination. The cascading uniquely shaped arch forms are arranged to create both a threshold space and a gathering space with movement suggested through light and form.
Traveler’s plaza encompasses plaza area of approximately 60 feet by 90 feet and is constructed from an assembly of 30 uniquely shaped and positioned elements forming a dynamic sculptural experience when passing through the installation as a threshold experience and wayfinding element. The installations create two smaller gathering spaces in a larger open public space. LED lighting of the arch elements and the Travelers’ benches creates inviting idea public spaces with strong visual connections to the park and urban context beyond.