As part of our desire to be inspired by the world around us, Hart Wright Architects went to Utah and visited important land art projects. These works connect the visitor to the landscape. They make one realize humans are just a small part of time, space and the universe. Seeing a piece of art built into the land is incredibly moving and well worth the effort.
The Spiral Jetty is a large earthwork sitting in the northern section of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. It was built in 1970 by artist Robert Smithson. A railroad causeway was built in the 1950s dividing Salt Lake into two parts. Run off and fresh water flow into the southern half mostly and before the causeway, the water got to mix, but now with the causeway, the northern half of the lake is slowly getting saltier and saltier. At this point only the Dead Sea is saltier. The only life forms that live in such a salty environment are algaes and bacterial. Smithson was intrigued. The algae in this northern half of the lake makes the water pink. Rozel Point, where he chose to place Spiral Jetty is particularly pink.
Spiral Jetty is a work that captures time and space. The now almost blood colored water is reminiscent of the primordial sea. The causeway that divides the lake, the near by Golden Spike Monument and the abandoned oil derrick at Rozel Point all represent the progress of mankind, some abandoned, and thereby symbolic of the human past.
The time and space element is also evident with respect to the lake. Water is increasing salinity and the water line constantly fluctuates. At the time Spiral Jetty was built, the lake level was at its lowest in many years. Sadly, Smithson died prematurely in a plane crash in 1973 and that is right around the time the lake level rose and submerged the Jetty for 30 years. At present, it is visible but still partially submerged. We went there knowing we would be lucky to see any of it at all. (credit: Tufnell, Ben. Land Art. London: Tate, 2006)
We felt the vastness of the lake expanding and opening up beyond the Spiral Jetty. The sky was pale blue, the lake pale pink, together like cotton candy. The basalt rocks forming the Jetty were glazed in a salt coating and as we waded in, our feet felt taught and itchy. We walked up the hill above Rozel Point and took in the view. The basalt rocks speckle the hill that is largely covered with a fine soft grass. At the top of the hill, the western edge of the lake is just visible. The spiral below a symbolic form, a beautiful man-made object in a broad and open space unlike any other.
Our next land art visit was to the Sun Tunnels, a work of art by Nancy Holt, one of only a few successful female land artists. We drove west from Spiral Jetty around the top of Salt Lake and near the border with Nevada. Turning south onto a dirt road, finally out on the desert plain was the sculpture getting larger as we approached. Her intent was to have the sculpture in a very remote location; we had been driving on the dirt road for miles.
Sun Tunnels is made up of four concrete tubes. Each one is 9 feet in diameter by 18 feet long. They are laid out in a lazy “x”. One aligns with the sunrise on the summer solstice, another on the winter solstice sunrise. The other two align with the sunsets on those days. Each tunnel has holes drilled in a pattern of a constellation; Capricorn, Columba, Draco and Perseus.
Holt thought about how a person perceives a wide open desert space and frames the view with the sculpture. The Tunnels provide shelter and give a fragile visitor a sense of human scale in that vast plain. We’ve thought about this when we visit the desert- how small and insignificant we seem. Rocks are everywhere and they are so old. There is evidence of water yet the land is dry. We see a space shaped by the past. Holt designed the sculpture with these thoughts in mind. The sky in symbolic form is carved into the tunnels, the sun moves through the sky along with the pattern inside the tunnels. Their positioning at solstice points are points in time, tied to a place. The sun, the light, air, and sky- all changing with the passage of time.
We were very moved by our impact on the fragile desert landscape. The tunnels sit in a plain and footprints of ours and visitors were all over. We escaped the hot sun in the tunnels’ shade, knowing that a simple tunnel has nothing on what a whole building does to a landscape. Buildings do not just provide shelter, they house our culture. They are the epitome of resource consumption.
We cannot wait to visit again, perhaps in another season, in another state of mind as the time passes these sculptures are there to be seen and be moved by again. These amazing works help to inspire us in every aspect of our work, especially green design and landscape ideas. Trips for inspiration are always spiritual adventures into the confines of our work and stretching outside the box for even more unique designs.