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Posted on Thu, Jul 23, 2009 : 8 a.m.

Herbert Dreiseitl presents his proposal for public art at the new Municipal Center

By Jennifer Eberbach

Earlier this week, German artist and landscape architect Herbert Dreiseitl unveiled his proposal for three interrelated public art installations for city hall and the new police-court building, which is currently under construction. The artist traveled to Ann Arbor to present his proposal to the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission’s Public Art Task Force and City Council and greeted curious residents at a public reception on Monday.

Dreiseitl's proposal centers on an outdoor water sculpture that would be located between the new municipal center’s rain garden and the entrances to the city hall courthouse, on Huron Street. His proposal incorporates metal, water, concrete, and a series of LED lights, and is comparable to “waterscapes” he has created for other cities that respond to the surrounding environment - designed to celebrate the refreshing, renewing quality of rain and water, and incorporating a sustainable approach to using storm water. During his presentation, he also explained that he designed the sculpture to act as a landmark in the center of the city aimed at drawing people into the space and clearly marking the entrance to the Municipal Center.

Motorists and pedestrians would be greeted by a tall tilted metal sculpture consisting of two attached plates that transition from concave to convex, which would be placed at the end of a long concrete ramp. The sculpture is planned to be around four or five meters tall, 90 centimeters wide at the top, and 100 centimeters wide at the bottom.

Storm water collected from the building’s rooftop would cascade down the sculpture, flow down the ramp, travel underneath a pedestrian walkway, and end in a cistern before being recycled back through the installation. Dreiseitl suggested that he would like to circulate and filter water through the rain garden, which would constitute a more sustainable approach to the design.

Royal blue LED lights, which the artist called “glass drops” or “pearls”, would be arranged down the front of the sculpture, disappear, and reappear on the back of the sculpture, just as rain penetrates the ground and comes out on the other side, he explained. The lights would be computer controlled to light up and fade down, giving the impression of movement down the face of the sculpture that would complement the flow of water. Dreiseitl said that the visual effect created by the water flowing past the LED lights would be most striking after the sun goes down, giving it a flickering quality.

Dreiseitl suggested that the sculpture be constructed out of corten, or rusted steel, though bronze is another option. The same metal used for the sculpture would be repeated in abstract wave-like and triangular elements along the ramp.

He also suggested two tentative ideas for indoor installations, which include an engraving of local plant life on the glass windows of the new police court and a representation of the Huron River watershed for the atrium between the old and new buildings. Each would incorporate LED lights in order to connect the indoor works and the outdoor water sculpture.

Public reaction on Monday varied. Ann Arbor teacher Barbara Klaver thinks Dreiseitl’s proposal is “marvelous. I think he is very sensitive to the environment that is here.” She also appreciates the fact that “he said he doesn’t want to build it in his studio. He wants to come here and use local workers and local materials,” she shared.

Several others in attendance at the public reception also had positive comments about the proposal. Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival Donald Harrison stated, “I think he’s an artist that is worthy of working with Ann Arbor.” Harrison also thinks “working with the open space as a way for people to engage around art is exciting. I don’t see a lot of that in Ann Arbor right now, as far as places where you are going to get together and be in the same space around art,” he said.

However, some attendees expressed a degree of skepticism. University of Michigan landscape architecture student Pat Reed expressed concern that although “he said it was a really low electricity draw, over the lifespan of this piece of art, it’s going to cost some money. It would be really nice if there were some solar panels somewhere to provide the electricity for it.”

Architect and urban planner Mike Forgacs thinks “it’s a good idea that we start to talk about storm water and to visualize it more, which is what Herbert Dreiseitl is all about, and I see that as very positive,” he said. However, although Forgacs appreciates the suggested plan to use local labor and local products, he thinks “we need to hold them to it.” At such a high cost, “It would be really great to know, is that really how those dollars are going to break down?” he said.

If approved, the art will be the first project funded through Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art Program, which designates one percent of the cost of public building projects to funding public art in the city. The ultimate cost of Dreiseitl’s installations have not been determined, but the Public Art Commission has set a spending cap of $700,000.

The Public Art Commission’s Public Art Task Force invited Dreiseitl to create the proposal after they were impressed by his keynote speech on storm water mitigation at the Huron River Watershed Council’s annual State of the Huron Conference last fall. The artist agreed to the task, and the City Council unanimously approved an expenditure for him to develop the proposal for $77,000, early this year.

Outcry from some members of the public followed - over concerns about spending pulic money on art during an economic crisis, and questioning why local or Michigan artists weren't give a chance to win the commission. The Public Art Commission said that speed was necessary due to limited time for the project, and that Dreiseitl was chosen for his expertise.

Dreiseitl responded to the controversy during his visit by saying that he is sensitive to Michigan’s current economic situation and plans to work with local industries and use materials produced in the region to create the works.

It is unsure exactly when a vote on Dreiseitl’s proposal will occur, but it will be up for discussion at upcoming Public Art Commission meetings.

Jennifer Eberbach is a free-lance writer who covers art for

Watch video of Dreiseitl's proposal presentation for three public art installations at the new Ann Arbor Municipal Center. Video courtesy of CTN's GovTV, Channel 16.


John Tucker

Tue, Nov 16, 2010 : 2:22 p.m.

In front of City Hall there was a series of mosaic panels by Gerome Kamrowski, internationally renowned Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist. He lived and worked in Ann Arbor from 1946 until his death in 2004. I understand that these panels were put in storage during the remodeling of City Hall. There are many Kamrowski pieces throughout the University and there is another Kamrowski installation planned for the new Mott Hospital. Before purchasing new works for Ann Arbor it would make sense to get these panels and any other stored works back on public display.


Thu, Dec 3, 2009 : 9:54 a.m.

While I do believe buying local is important with respect to things like groceries, based on the environmental merits, this artist was chosen for the merits of his work, and where he is domiciled should not be taken into account. People in China, Germany or the United States all need to make a living, and their work should be viewed from the standpoint of quality and integrity, not nationalism.


Wed, Jul 29, 2009 : 2:29 p.m.

I think the design is great and will be a beautiful addition to the new City Hall. I think that even in an economic downtrun, art is still important. Especially public art. I, too, wish that the process of selection would have been opened to the public. It was a very quick decision for a Council that is known for dragging decisions out as long as possible and for supporting local initiatives. But, with that said, art should not be defined just by where the artist lives. This is an interesting installation by a world class artist. I think it will add greatly to the new City Hall and to the surrounding neighborhood.


Mon, Jul 27, 2009 : 2:51 p.m.

Hey, I know. Let's put an income tax on the ballot this fall to pay for the art for the new government buildings. Or, maybe we could all keep our money and put up some velveet paintings of dogs playing poker.


Sun, Jul 26, 2009 : 10:21 a.m.

Wow! $77,000 sent to this very nice German design firm and 700,00 to build...That money should never have been approved to be outsourced to Germany!!! We need to support LOCAL people. Or at least AMERICAN artists. They picked him because it was easy, and they railroaded it through. PUBLIC ART SHOULD BE CREATED AND MADE BY AMERICANS. If this were a private commission then it would not matter. Remember the WPA? Buy local or bye bye local. Shame on City government.

Steve Feinman

Sat, Jul 25, 2009 : 7:18 p.m.

While the project may have merit, the selection of this artist, at the expense of all the capable local talent as well as US talent, demonstrates the misplaced priorities of Ann Arbor city Government. This was confirmed when the project design was revealed last week.