Charles Village, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, 2015.
Optical Gardens is a block-long art plaza that expresses elements of optics, water, and seasonal effects unique to its site adjacent to Johns Hopkins University. Johns Hopkins adds an intellectual vibrancy and ethos of research and discovery, housing the Space Telescope Science Institute among other departments. Pioneers of the clean water movement, Abel and Reds Wolman, were prominent scientists at Johns Hopkins and are honored in the artwork.
Optical Gardens dramatizes the performance of nature by showcasing seasonal shifts and sustainable practices of stormwater management. The artwork is designed around a sequence of four rooms, each distinguished by a season. Trees and shrubs selected to be at their most spectacular during the particular season being highlighted frame each room.
The rooms align along an axis defined by hydrological and optical effects. The optical axis is delineated by a series of stainless steel ring sculptures of graduated sizes that visually link to form a conceptual telescope. The hydrological axis is a stone-lined stormwater swale that feeds rain gardens wrapping around the seasonal rooms. The swale’s meander pattern is derived from the stream studies of Reds Wolman. One section of the swale includes the Wolman Pebble Count, a collection of stones donated in memory of Reds by his colleagues, friends and family. At the center of each of the four seasonal rooms is a stone stage carved with an image depicting water, ranging from the microscopic to the telescopic in conjunction with the graduated sizes of the ring sculptures. The water images include: local microbial organisms, the Chesapeake Bay, global ocean currents, and the galaxy (the location of current searches for water by JHU scientists).
A spotlight will shine on each of the carved stone stages in colors referencing the seasonality of the room: amber for autumn, blue for winter, pink for spring, and green for summer. These colors loosely align with colors of the tree flowers and foliage, which will be illuminated in white uplights.
Manipulated to perform aesthetically, functionally, and conceptually, the rich palette of materials will yield compelling, thought-provoking, and delightful spaces.
Optical Gardens was commissioned by Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. Haddad|Drugan collaborated with RK&K, WRT, and P.E.L.A. on the plaza design. The ring sculptures were built by Atomic Fabrications and the stone medallions were carved by Sebastian Martorana. Stone and ring installation was by Hilgartner and plaza construction by Concrete General.