NEW HAVEN: A collaboration led by Pirie Associates Architects, with New Haven based sculptor Gar Waterman and Branford “energy expert” and architect Lindsay Suter designed a public art piece for the waterfront of downtown Willimantic. The design was created as part of the most recent Land Art Generator Institute’s [LAGI design competition for construction on the site.. The team’s effort won and the trio was presented with an award for their project design at Connecticut Arts Day on April 25.
Rio Iluminado is an unusual, innovative and what Inhabit a design Weblog magazine called a “spectacular energy generating artwork."
LAGI’s most recent design competition was a partnership with the Willimantic Whitewater Partnership (WWP).
LAGI is an international organization that hosts competitions and events “to accelerate the transition to post-carbon economies by providing models of renewable energy infrastructure that add value to public space, inspire, and educate—while providing equitable power to thousands of homes around the world.”
LAGI'S motto is “Renewable Energy Can Be Beautiful.” Co-founders Elizabeth Monoian and Robert Ferry say, “Rio Iluminado was chosen by the selection committee as the winner because the design emerged out of a thoughtful community engagement process and reflects (both literally and figuratively) the hopes and aspirations of the people of Willimantic for this new place with a timeless and elegant regenerative sculpture.”
WWP is an “all-volunteer, non-profit organization formed in 2002 by environmentalists, whitewater kayaking enthusiasts and other community members with the mission to recapture the Willimantic River site by developing an urban waterfront and whitewater park.”
“Rio Iluminado cleverly addresses how to bring the river closer to the community—and vice-versa,” says WWP President James Turner. “We are thrilled to have a project design that will result in such an intricately conceived and strikingly executed work of art for the community to enjoy and be inspired by for years to come.”
LAGI worked with WWP in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) at Eastern Connecticut State University, and the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Office of the Arts, to stage the design competition for a “power- producing centerpiece at a new whitewater park along the Willimantic River.”
Pirie principal Laura Pirie said “the project was a natural for us, we want to build communities through built environments, Rio Iluminado is a place-making sculpture that aims to restore and illuminate connections between the City, the river, and the community.”
She added, “our role as designers is to give form to the community’s aspirations and intentions. We encouraged everyone to explore how this new place could be more than a static container and could instead be an active participant in the success of their community," explained Pirie on the three months of “conversations” with members of the community.
The project is a “solar arch,” a 900 square foot solar array that will be capable of generating 25.5 MW of energy annually, the underside will be fitted with stainless steel panels creating a “glimmering” entrance to the river.
According to a Pirie releases, “Rio Illuminado will create an ever-changing, forward-looking landmark that aims to restore a sense of well-being, decrease isolation and create opportunities for joy through three primary attributes. First, it uses the sun to generate energy and to mark the passage of the seasons, the rhythm of the day, and the movement of river-related species. Second, it brings the river up into the park where a broad cross-section of people can interact with the water. And third, it playfully reflects the river, its species, the people, and the city, illuminating the life of Willimantic in an ever-changing mural.”
Pirie’s entire design goes well beyond the sculpture, as the site will be developed as a new whitewater park along the Willimantic River, what Piries calls an “urban outdoor activity park.”
The park is a nexus of trails through the area and introduces the trail head for a proposed riparian trail. At the Bridge Street end of the site is a put–in for kayaking activities and at the opposite, easterly end of the site, near the proposed riparian trail, is a take-out, also for kayaking and for fishing along the river. Along the northern edge, an earthen building houses restrooms, office and kayak storage, and a public space that will act as a shelter in the summer and a warming hut in the winter.
Phase II of the project has begun to create a detailed design for construction.