Committee recommends 'Sky Algorithm' design for parking garage

Saturday, July 3, 2010 | 5:01 p.m. CDT; updated 11:08 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 18, 2010
A sketch of the parking garage art from the artist.

COLUMBIA — The northwest tower of the parking garage being constructed at Fifth and Walnut Streets could echo visions of the Columbia sky when completed.

The proposed design for the structure by artist Stuart Keeler, entitled "Sky Algorithm," would use large pieces of differently colored glass to represent changes as the sun rises and sets over the course of a day.

In addition, Keeler's design would feature words in different languages etched onto the surface of the glass. The languages in question would be selected from those of cities across the globe sharing the 38 parallel with Columbia

The Standing Committee on Public Art voted Friday to recommend Keeler's current design plans to the Commission on Cultural Affairs. Only one member was not in favor of the recommendation.

Construction is to be funded by the Percent for Art program, which allows for one percent of new city construction projects to be used for site-specific pieces of public art. Keeler will have up to $110,000 to work with on "Sky Algorithm."

Before deciding, members reviewed public comment received both in person and online through a website set up for the purpose, agreeing that they were for the most part very positive.

Committee member Nancy Burdick said some of the negative comments seemed to be a platform to get other opinions across, such as unhappiness regarding the size of the structure as a whole.

Committee member Paula Elias said some people she spoke to thought the piece should be bigger and “more splashy.” Members discussed and agreed that to cover the entire surface of the huge structure would be too much.

During an opportunity for comment from the audience, Linda Rootes of the North Central Columbia Neighborhood Association asked what the text that would be etched into the panels would say, expressing concern that something “alien” should not appear in a historic part of town. 

Benyamin Schwarz, a professor of architectural studies at MU, was asked to attend the committee as an expert and said he thinks the “Sky Algorithm” design is a progressive and clever one, though he was also unsure about what the included text would say. 

“I wanted it to relate more to the context of the city,” Schwarz said. “If it is something more international, it should have some universal meaning.”

Keeler’s design is still conceptual and any text has yet to be finalized, according to Marie Hunter, manager of the Office of Cultural Affairs. If the design moves forward, Keeler will continue to work and submit his ideas to the Office and the Standing Committee.

After the conclusion of the meeting, the committee informally viewed a slideshow of images taken by Sarah Skaggs, program specialist for the Office of Cultural Affairs, of the Columbia sky during the summer solstice on June 21. This included images taken at 6:28 a.m. CDT, the exact time when the earth was most tilted towards the sun according to the United States Naval Observatory. Keeler requested and will use these images to draw colors for the creation of the final piece.

The Committee will present its recommendation to the Commission on Cultural Affairs at a meeting on July 12.

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