Richmond shoreline might soon get sweet sculpture

Richmond shoreline might soon get sleek new 20-foot sculpture resembling giant blades of eelgrass.
"Changing Tides" by Richmond's Reed Madden Designs

The Richmond shoreline might soon be illuminated by seven sleek, 20-foot-tall sculptures after a local couple’s design was selected last month.

The proposed public artwork, “Changing Tide,” was chosen by city officials among 92 artist applicants and could potentially be erected at the very end of Harbour Way at Point Sheridan in early 2015.  The design must go through more vetting by the city before then.

Changing Tide was created by sculptors Jennifer Madden and Jeff Reed of Richmond-based Reed Madden Designs. It features 20-foot-tall metal stalks that can “dance in the wind,” capture solar energy and emit L.E.D. lights in more than 100 colors.

The metal stalks are meant to resemble “eelgrass,” which Madden said “evokes the tidal marshlands that once occupied the site” and still exist along Richmond’s shoreline (A more detailed description of the design concept from the artists can be read at the bottom of this story.).

Richmond shoreline about to get sleek new metal sculpture resembling giant blades of color-emitting eelgrass.
“Changing Tide” design.
Click on image to expand
Click on image to expand

The design could be officially approved by month’s end, Madden said Monday. Madden said she and her husband were elated that their design was selected among “very good competition.”

“We are Richmond residents and this is something that we’re able to create in our backyard for ourselves as well as for the community,” Madden said. “I think it will make an urban plaza and enliven the waterfront both day and night. We hope it brings children as well as adults to see the changing lights and to think about the water, the height of the tide and the marshlands that once existed there and still exists in much of Richmond.”

The proposed public art responds to a city ordinance requiring 1.5-percent of the cost of certain capital projects be used for public art, Lindsay said.

“The Port of Richmond’s substantial investment in rail infrastructure several years ago, which allowed for contracts with Honda and Subaru for auto handling operations, provided funding under this ordinance to make a significant addition to Richmond’s public art canvas,” Lindsay  stated in his weekly newsletter.

A description of Changing Tide by Reed Madden:

These tidelands were filled by the dredging of the harbor in the 1920’s, which made possible the opening of the Ford Motor Assembly Plant still standing nearby. (Some 40-percent of the Bay has been filled since 1850.) Eelgrass and shallow marshlands are critically important to fish habitat and bird populations. Richmond is home to some of the healthiest eelgrass beds in the Bay. This sculpture highlights the changing tide of Richmond’s shoreline.  

Literally, these metal stalks show off the wind, sun and level of the adjacent water’s tide. The movement of the bronze and silver stalks attracts visitors when they dance in even the gentlest of winds. Their bending forms cast playful shadows on the ground. By day the sculptures capture solar energy along their central stalks (a technological photosynthesis using thin-film panels). By night, the tall light shafts glow in ever-changing colors. After sunset at a low tide, the light tubes will slowly change between reds, oranges and yellows, while at high tide, they will glow blue, green and purple. Over 100 colors can be programmed for nighttime drama and special events.

The concrete in varying shades of earthtone and the textured ground plane footing of the sculpture are made to elicit mudflats. Drought-tolerant succulents and ice plants (often found by the California shoreline) surround the sculpture and soften the hardscape edge of paving and asphalt. An outdoor urban plaza is created with the help of five custom shell-like benches encircling the sculpture, which make for a pleasant place to sit, relax and carry on a conversation.

Interpretive signage adjacent to the Bayshore trail shows the changing landscape of the site over the century, the importance of marshlands to the Bay’s ecosystem and an explanation of the solar/light and tidal components of the sculpture.