Part III: Airway Final Work Winter 2014
Airway marks the gateway to the El Paso International Airport and Downtown. It is inspired by images of flight, native plants and the industrial/commercial site which is rapidly becoming a destination for travelers. Flanked by hotels, gas stations, and Starbucks, Airway is becoming a local landmark. This year Airway was voted “Best of the Border” for Public Art in 2014. This is a people’s choice award sponsored by the El Paso Times. Recently, it posted to the cover of SOLAR TODAY, and it is featured in the Parting Shot. See: McIntyre, Maureen. “Public Art Meets Sustainability in Texas.” Solar Today. May/June 2015
Also, Airway is included in 2015 CODAawards Top 100 Projects.
Airway is a renovation project. The original interchange was created in the 1960’s. It is one of ten interchanges included in the Aesthetic Master Plan for I-10 that we authored in 2012. Airway is a demonstration project promoting sustainability. This view is taken from the fourth floor of the Staybridge Hotel. At dawn the sky is dramatic, creating bands of blue and gold hues that complement the turbines. In the background, decommissioned oil tanks are silhouetted against the sky.
Throughout the evening, the turbines are modified by the programmable LED lighting and the sky. Here the turbines take on a landscape characteristic and interact with the matching hues of the evening sky. The lighting is programmed to reflect the seasons. Also, it is inspired by the bright hues of Mexican blankets. Below, is a diagram of the lighting hues used for the four programmed seasonal shows. From left to right, each column of colors represents a season: spring, summer, fall and winter. As El Paso’s seasons are transitional, the color selections reflect this. There are 52 hues in each show, one for each week of the year.
In addition to the four main shows reflecting the seasons, there are shows for special holidays and events.
Above, orange and blue team colors mark the University of Texas at El Paso big game weekend. Programming the lighting to celebrate special events and holidays is key to community involvement with the site. Since the project’s installation, various community groups have approached the City, to request special shows and colors for their events. Most recently, the site ran blue hues for a week to honor El Paso police week.
The turbines require winds of 10-30 miles per hour in order to spin and generate electricity. The electricity generated by these turbines is added back into the power grid for the City. The turbines, created by UGE, are both functional and graceful. We added armatures, suggesting airplane wing forms, to transform the turbines and their poles into works of art, creating a more organic look and feel. These are complemented by lines of low illuminated sculptures that suggest desert cacti that are about to bloom.
Blossoming is an apt metaphor for the site and the community. Airway is a community that is blossoming with many new improvements to the site and the neighborhood. Once a “dead zone,” Airway is beginning to thrive with visitors and local alike, who frequent the new hotels, the Flame Room and nearby Starbucks.
During the day, the installation is very sculptural, standing out against the deep blue El Paso sky.
Driving along Gateway East, you can see the sculptures from some distance. They are enhanced by the addition of natural stone, native plants and curved planters, carrying a windswept theme in the concrete patterning. The project introduces a native landscape theme and it is sustainable. Once established, the landscape does not require irrigation.
Light and shadow dramatize the planter walls in the late afternoon. The movement of wind is echoed in the planters, through patterning that mitigates the massive concrete forms.
The concrete patterning design work is created by using a CNC router and a variety of software programs to image the work in 3D. Initially, the surface was designed in Rhino, using Grasshopper, a parametric design program. Later, the work was redrawn in Solid Works, to create more curvilinear forms and movement. The inspiration is both the wind and the geometric patterning of cacti. The overall relief is 4″ deep, which allows for the surface to read in El Paso’s bright light and deep shadows. The infrastructure is oriented on a north-south axis, with difficult sun angles.
In the afternoon, the sun illuminates the infrastructure along Gateway East. In the morning and late afternoon this side is in shadows. Brightly colored graphics animate the columns, rotating to form a suggested arc.
The painted columns add color and scale to the interchange. They are simple and lively creating an attractive approach for pedestrians. Each pattern rotates by 15 degrees to create an arc in the center of the run.
Airway exists on several scales: on the scale of the street, on the scale of people and on the scale of the city. Here, with a mountain backdrop Airway exists on the scale of its borrowed landscape. It is a compelling gateway that signals something special is happening here. It is ever changing with the drama of light and skies. It is timeless. It signals arrival and to some, “coming home.”
This image by photographer Jesse Ramirez says it all. It captures the essence of El Paso, with the El Paso star illuminated on the distant hillside, to the left, and Airway illuminated front-and-center.
Recent Articles Include:
McIntyre, Maureen. “Public Art Meets Sustainability in Texas.” Solar Today. May/June 2015
“Airway”. Public Art Review. Forecast Public Art. February 20, 2015.
Tapia, Jair. “A Dialogue of Forms: Interview with Vicki Scuri, The ELP Airway Artist.” (Spanish language) Los Herrajeros. February 16, 2015.
Castillo, Gladys. “Revista destaca la estética de ‘Luces de la Airway.’” El Diario de El Paso. January 25, 2015.
“Light as Art II.” CODAmagazine. January 2015.
Artist: Vicki Scuri
Lighting Programmer: Initiateenergy, Matt Hamilton
Custom Fabrication: CAID