History of Blueprints

Metal arch with unique design

The Town of Addison is known for its unique characteristics, from its 200 plus restaurants and the busiest general aviation airport in Texas, to its special events (who else celebrates the Fourth of July on the 3rd and Oktoberfest in September?). However, what is coming out of the ground in the center of Addison's urban hub is more than unique, it's visionary.

On April 13, 2000, the Town held a great party to celebrate and dedicate "Blueprints at Addison Circle." Over 700 residents and friends helped celebrate the final result of over four years of hard work by hundreds of architects, engineers, artists, and craftsmen.

Addison's first piece of public art was completed and officially illuminated for the first time. Mayor Wheeler and the Council threw the official switch to set off a fantastic light show complete with lasers, searchlights, and pyrotechnics, all of which were choreographed to music from Disney's "Fantasia 2000."

Of course, since it was an Addison celebration, there was great food and live entertainment for all 700 guests. The Town even minted its own money for the occasion. Commemorative silver coins, which bore the Blueprints image, were given out to all guests.

It was a fitting way to end the long and difficult art piece construction process, and it was a great welcome for a fabulous sculpture. Addison has created the "exclamation point" it was after.


The Vision

"The first dreams for Addison Circle evolved from Addison's Vision 2020 group," recalls former Addison City Manager Ron Whitehead. In 1992, a group of residents, business leaders, and Council Members, led by former Mayor D. Lynn Spruill, spent nine months developing a strategic vision to lead Addison into the 21st century." The committee agreed that Addison needed a sense of place. Whitehead said, "We could see the Metroplex, and Addison's position in it, changing. We had been at the northern end of the Tollway, now it goes all the way to Frisco. We knew that to keep people coming here, we had to make Addison a special place, a place that was different from the surrounding suburbs."

Ron Whitehead and the Development Services staff saw the opportunity to build a "special place" on 74 acres of raw land adjoining the Addison Conference and Theatre Centre. The tract is bordered by the Dallas Tollway on the east and Quorum Drive on the west. The land was owned by Gaylord Properties and was zoned in the 1980's for 13.5 million square feet of office space. Whitehead and the staff believed that the tract had the potential to be a new urban downtown for Addison. A place where people could live, work, shop, and dine, all within a rich and varied urban environment.

Addison's former Director of Development Services Carmen Moran contacted Robert Shaw, then CEO of Columbus Realty Trust, and asked Mr. Shaw to look at the Gaylord Properties site to see if Whitehead and the staff were crazy for thinking this site could be the European-style, suburban downtown Addison envisioned. Mr. Shaw did not find the idea crazy. In fact, he and Columbus Realty Trust shared a similar vision for urban living, which was already coming to fruition in the Uptown McKinney Avenue area of Dallas. Mr. Shaw pursued the purchase of the property, and Columbus Realty Trust and the Town's leaders began making the vision a reality.

Over the next two years, Addison's city staff worked diligently with Columbus, which was acquired by Post Properties in 1998, to develop a unique code of ordinances that would govern the new community. All aspects of design, from the width and brick for the sidewalks, to the facades on the parking garages, were detailed in the development guidelines for this new community. Since the model for this multi-use district was fashioned after European communities, as well as Boston's Back Bay and Chicago's Lincoln Park, it was decided that a traffic rotary would serve as the central focus.

"We were pleased with the plans Post was presenting to us," recalls then-Mayor Richard Beckert. "But we knew that for this new development to be more than just a passing fad, we needed a true landmark, an exclamation point for the community. We decided to place a significant piece of art in the middle of the traffic circle."

As dirt began to fly on Phase One of Addison Circle, another challenge was underway - selecting an artist to design and build the "exclamation point." The Town, with assistance from artist Frances Bagley and the landscape architecture firm of Sasaki Associates, developed a request for qualifications and a list of potential artists from all over the world. A committee consisting of officials from the Town and Post Properties culled the 23 applicants to three finalists: George Hargreaves, Albert Paley, and the team of Michael Van Valkenburgh and Mel Chin.

Each finalist was asked to develop a vision and model for the committee's consideration. "When we saw Van Valkenburgh and Chin's model, we knew it was perfect for the space," remembers Ron Whitehead. Their design consisted of a vase-shaped sculpture that resembled the branching pattern of a grove of oak trees. The large sculpture would encompass the circle, and cantilever out over the circle into the traffic lanes. Mel Chin explained, "We talk about this piece as representing the Town, but there's also a human experience of being under it and driving around it. The experiential factor is very important for art or architecture."

As the project progressed, the design evolved into what is currently under construction. "Our vision is one of actual blueprints unfurling a city blooming like a plant," recalls Chin. "Each petal has its own personality, with a rich trace of history as well."

To create the ultimate design for the "Blueprints at Addison Circle," the designers took actual blueprints from Addison's municipal buildings, parks, bridges, and water pumping facilities to create a piece of public art that truly mirrors its community. "When we looked further at the original submission, we realized that this sculpture could be anywhere in the world," Mel Chin told the City Council. "We wanted to create something more personal, something unique to Addison." What could be more personal than the piece that details the history, development and growth of the Town?


The Creation

The finished design for the Blueprints at Addison Circle called for a structure more than 4 stories high and 140 feet across. The designers, landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, and artist Mel Chin, were quick to realize that their creation would require the melding of both art and engineering to come to life. Although they had the artistic capabilities, they enlisted the aid of LeMessurier Consultants to design the structural engineering for the project. LeMessurier Consultants is known throughout the world for its work on such projects as the Sears Tower in Chicago, Citicorp Building in New York, the U.S. Courthouse in Boston, the New Boston Garden, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and many more.

Once the plans were completed, the search began for a firm that could actually build the sculpture. Since the piece was being commissioned by a government agency, the Town of Addison was required to go through a public bidding process. In order to ensure the best possible match, the Town embarked on a thorough mission to pre-qualify bidders so it could be assured that the low bidder was capable of performing the work.

After reviewing five bids, Westerchil Construction Company was awarded the project in July of 1998. Westerchil proposed to serve as the general contractor for the project while subcontracting the fabrication and erection of the sculpture to Big D Metalworks of Dallas.

"This looked to us like a very challenging, one-of-a-kind project," recalls Bruce Witter of Big D. "It's exactly the kind of thing we thrive on since it covers a wide range of capabilities from structural to architectural steel." So, as Westerchil began breaking ground on the foundation of the sculpture, which included mounting 25, 48-inch wide piers at the site, Big D Metalworks began welding.

Since Big D's work primarily consists of creating monumental staircases, architectural metal objects, security gates, and fences, this large scale project was indeed unique, and it imposed some opportunities for creative thinking. "The tight tolerances of plus or minus .03 inches are almost unheard of in this business," explains Witter. "We also had to look carefully at the sequencing of the work, the size of the panels, painting, and transportation." The panels were constructed at three different sites in Dallas while the poles were made in Houston and New Jersey.

After more than 18,000 man-hours of cutting, shaping, and welding almost 410,000 pounds of steel, the craftsman began spraying 650 gallons of custom-mixed "Sharpie Blue" paint on the 25 poles and five art panels. After more than a year of work, the team began constructing the piece on the site in early September. The assembly operation will take almost four months to complete and requires two large cranes to place the poles on the site and connect the panels to the poles.

Finally, seven years of hopes, dreams, and plans have become a reality. The vision Addison and Post Properties shared for a "special place," with a very special landmark, has come to life. The Town and Post, along with a dedicated team of artists, landscape architects, engineers, and craftsmen, has created "Blueprints at Addison Circle," a piece of public art that celebrates Addison's history and its future.


The Creators

Having never commissioned a piece of public art, finding the right piece, as well as the right artists to partner with, was critical to fulfilling the vision of Addison Circle that had been created by the Town and Post Properties.

The project site for the piece is a 133-foot diameter traffic circle, which is the focal point for Addison Circle. Addison Circle is an exciting new mixed-use planned development district aimed at creating a sustainable 3,500-unit, high-density urban neighborhood, combined with retail stores and office space.

After an in-depth search process, a committee consisting of Addison Mayor Rich Beckert, City Manager Ron Whitehead, Director of Development Services Carmen Moran, Columbus Realty Trust's CEO Robert Shaw and Vice President Bryant Nail, and RTKL Associates' VP-Planning John Gosling selected the team of Michael Van Valkenburgh and Mel Chin to create a landmark for Addison.

Michael Van Valkenburgh, whose firm was the lead consultant for the project, recalls that Mel and he decided to collaborate because they shared a common interest in the experiential quality of art and landscapes. They knew that their separate but allied professions would give rise to a unique solution for the Town's vision.

Michael Van Valkenburgh graduated from the Cornell University College of Agriculture in 1973 and received a Master's of Landscape Architecture from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in 1978. He chaired the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design between 1991 and 1996 where he now holds the chair of Charles Eliot Professor of Landscape Architecture. In 1988 he was an Advanced Fellow at the American Academy in Rome.

Since founding his own firm in 1982, Mr. Van Valkenburgh has directed the design and construction of over 300 landscapes for institutional, public and private clients including the landscape master plans for Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville, Tennessee, and the renovation of Marion Square in Charleston, South Carolina. In addition to earning several awards for his work, Mr. Van Valkenburgh co-authored the book Gertrude Jekyll: A Vision of Garden and Wood with Judith Tankard and examples of this own work can be found in Design with the Land: Landscape Architecture of Michael Van Valkenburgh.

The designer's vision for Addison's request was to build something civic in scale, but something that also was unique to the Town. The outcome, "Blueprints at Addison Circle," was derived from the idea of unfurling blueprints representing a Town in the making.

"The haunting beauty of the blueprints traceries transcend the fact that they are individual pieces of common things," explains Van Valkenburgh. "Mel and I believe it will feel like a set of instructions for making something."

The five petals of "Blueprints at Addison Circle" contain detailed drawings from the blueprints used to build many of the city's buildings and parks. The elements include a fountain, a sun dial, a bench, a bridge railing; plans of the Addison Conference and Theatre Centre; patent drawings for cotton gin equipment; the original Plat of Addison; a pump station; and the spa at the Addison Athletic Club.

Mel Chin is a native of Houston, Texas, but he currently lives in Burnsville, North Carolina. Mel graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee. He served as the Lamar Dodd Professorial Chair of Fine Arts at the University of Georgia from 1994 to 1997, and as a Consulting Professor at Stanford University for the Winter Quarter of 1998. Mel has received many grants and awards from various foundations including the Rockefeller Foundation and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation.

Mel's most recent one-person exhibitions include: "Anxious Objects" at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, 1995, and "Inescapable Histories," Exhibits USA, traveling exhibition, 1997-1999. His other public art commissions include "Signal" Broadway/Lafayette Subway Station Design, Metro Transit Authority Commission, New York, New York (1996), and "Houston Sesquicentennial Park Monument," Houston, Texas (1998).

"You make something very powerful in terms of art, not in terms of strength, but in terms of meaning, when you push beyond where other people are willing to take it," expresses Chin. "I think that's what this form is about. And yet, when you pull back you understand the poetics. When you're under the sculpture you are very interested in what's above you. It has a complimentary effect."