Tuesday, June 15, 2010
How can San Diego improve one of its most iconic structures? We speak to the public art director for the Port of San Diego about the proposals that have been submitted for the Coronado Bay Bridge Lighting Project.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): We continue our discussion about arts projects proposed to enhance San Diego's bayfront, and that includes a project planned on the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge. The curving bridge that spans more than two miles to link San Diego and Coronado opened 41 years ago. By its 50th anniversary, the Port of San Diego would like to see the bridge shine at night with a distinct lighting design. Proposals have been taken from 8 – 80, that is, light design groups and have now been whittled down to three finalists. Here to tell us more about the Coronado Bay Bridge Lighting project is my guest Yvonne Wise, public art director for the Port of San Diego. Yvonne, good morning.
YVONNE WISE (Public Art Direct, Port of San Diego): Hi, Maureen. Thanks for having me today.
CAVANAUGH: Where did this idea for lighting the bridge come from?
WISE: Well, the Port of San Diego actually has a public art department, which was created back in 1996 as part of the Port’s commitment to public service. And back in 2007, the Port’s public art committee embarked on a truly ambitious effort to create a signature artwork for the region and they chose the Coronado Bay Bridge as the palette for this undertaking.
CAVANAUGH: Now I’m rather surprised – well, I am surprised, perhaps you’re not, 80 light design groups submitted proposals for this. Tell – Were you surprised by that? And tell us a little bit about these design groups.
WISE: We received 87 submissions…
CAVANAUGH: Wow. Okay.
WISE: …or basically qualifications from teams. That process began back in 2008 and the Port released an international call for artist-led design teams for this bridge lighting project. So, basically, a worldwide search was conducted to find the very best teams for the bridge. And then, as you mentioned, these three truly outstanding teams were the three teams that have been invited to prepare preliminary concept proposals. And these concept proposals include videos, and the videos, if, you know, your viewers have not seen already, can be viewed on the Port’s website.
CAVANAUGH: Absolutely. Now, just wondering, Yvonne, any of those 80 stand out as particularly odd and you do not have to tell us where it came from.
WISE: No, no.
CAVANAUGH: No. They were all pretty much in line with a good lighting design proposal.
WISE: Yeah, well, again, and the 87 that submitted, they just submitted their qualifications…
CAVANAUGH: I see.
WISE: …and then it was sort of shortlisted to three teams who were invited to actually come up with proposals.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit more about these three finalists.
WISE: The teams are Bideau Company, the Ned Kahn team and the Peter Fink team. And basically they were selected to prepare proposals because of their experience in large scale lighting projects, their esthetic vision and also, most importantly, their commitment to energy conservation.
CAVANAUGH: Now I know that people can go—and I hope they do go—online, Portofsandiego.org to see the videos of these three finalists but can you describe perhaps just a little bit what each of these entities is proposing for the light design for the Coronado Bay Bridge?
WISE: Sure. Bideau Company has proposed an animated zigzag pattern that’s inspired in part by the drawings of the Kumeyaay Indians. And the zigzag would basically run along the outside curve of the bridge and it would change colors from blue to green, and the sort of waved zigzag line would create a visual connection then between San Diego and Coronado. And they’re exploring the idea of powering these LED lights with solar or wind power.
WISE: The – Do you want me to go into the next team?
CAVANAUGH: Please do.
WISE: The Ned Kahn team, they’ve proposed a series of illuminated wind turbine sculptures that would be installed between the bridge’s vertical pillars and basically as the wind speed increases, the color hue would change from an amber glow to a brighter white. And then they also have another element with a shimmer light that would be visible under the span of the bridge deck and this light is basically meant to appear as if the light is being reflected from the bay below. The third team, the Peter Fink team, they’ve proposed illuminating the pillars with lights that celebrate the bridge as a gateway, and they’re envisioning the colors would be able to be programmed with an infinite number of settings and they could be changed in response to holidays or the seasons, so basically they see the bridge lighting as something that could be dynamic and changing when wanted. For their proposal, the outer deck would be illuminated with lighting that could be programmed to respond to vehicular traffic. For instance, the lighting could respond to the direction of the car movements on the bridge.
CAVANAUGH: It’s really amazing to see three proposals for bridge lights be so very different from one another. Were you…
WISE: They are.
CAVANAUGH: And also, the prestigious – the companies that have actually submitted these final proposals, quite prestigious. I know that the Bideau team lit the Eiffel Tower and the Acropolis, is that right?
WISE: That is correct. That is correct. And again, you know, when, you know, we did this worldwide search, it really was to find, you know, the very best teams in the world to possibly illuminate the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge.
CAVANAUGH: So who is going to be choosing the winning proposal?
WISE: We have a selection panel that’s comprised of field experts in art, architecture, lighting and green energy. And basically they have evaluation criteria, which they would need to sort of rate the proposals on. Their recommendation would be forwarded to the Board of Port Commissioners for their final reviewing consideration. A tentative timeline on that, the Board of Port Commissioner review right now is the August meeting.
CAVANAUGH: I see. Now I’ve heard that the designer of the Coronado Bay Bridge, architect Robert Mosher, has been on hand for the announcement of the finalists and he’ll participate in the selection process. What does he think about this idea? What role is he going to be playing in the final selection?
WISE: He actually – Robert Mosher is one of the members on the selection panel, so he’s one of the individuals that’s tasked with looking at the proposals, interviewing the teams and rating them on that evaluation criteria. He certainly showed up at both of our public meetings that we held last week and he’s been very supportive and very excited of the possibility of this project.
CAVANAUGH: The long, graceful legs of the bridge has been – have been noted by many of these lighting teams as an inspiration to design for.
WISE: That is correct. Two of the teams, you know, really saw the strong vertical pillars as something that should be illuminated, whereas Bideau Company thought it was more about the curve of the bridge and highlighting that only.
CAVANAUGH: Now how can—if they can—the public participate in the selection process for the Coronado Bay Bridge Lighting project?
WISE: Well, we always welcome public comment and feedback on all of our projects. One thing the public can do is you can send in e-mails and this information is available on the Port’s website, but the e-mail address would be, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org so certainly feel free to do that. Or you could submit comments through regular mail. The address for that is Public Art Department, Attention: Bridge Lighting, PO Box 120488, San Diego, California, 92112.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Yvonne Wise. She’s public art director for the Port of San Diego, and we’re talking about the Coronado Bay Bridge Lighting project and particularly the three finalists to win the prize of the lighting project to design lighting for the bridge. And we have a caller on the line. Sunny is calling us from Mission Hills. Good morning, Sunny. Welcome to These Days.
SUNNY (Caller, Mission Hills): Good morning, ladies. Thank you very much for taking my call. I have a couple of questions. Well, I’m assuming that the Port is going to pay for all of this but that is my question…
SUNNY: …who’s paying for it? And then two, if either one of you saw Steve Breen’s cartoon the other day, the bridge is a San Diego icon and I don’t understand where the decision comes to mess with a good thing. I just – Maybe I’m just an old fogey. I’ve lived here all of my life and I’ve come to appreciate the bridge for what it is but it seems like let’s take something beautiful and wonderful and mess it up. And I’ll listen off air. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, Sunny. First of all, let’s take her first question, Yvonne. Who is paying for this?
WISE: The Port is leading the first phase of the project, which includes this search that we’ve just spoken about for the artist-led design teams and funding the development of the concept proposals or the videos, and this funding commitment by the Port is $50,000. Funding for future phases, though, has not been determined yet but it’s envisioned that funding would come from private donations or possibly even grant opportunities. So the Port and CalTrans, who actually has jurisdiction over the bridge, will work together to determine funding opportunities for next phases.
CAVANAUGH: And Sunny’s also concerned that this lighting project is going to mess up the bridge.
WISE: I think that’s, you know, it’s certainly a great concern. One of the reasons why the bridge was selected for this project was because at night, while the bridge does have a quite striking presence during the day, at night it does get lost so, of course, the idea was created to consider illuminating it at night so that at night it would look as grand as it does as during the day.
CAVANAUGH: Now does this lighting project fall in line with the other public art projects that have been installed along the bayfront?
WISE: It’s certainly, you know, coming from the Port’s public art committee. It will go through the Board of Port Commissioners. One of the key differences on this project is that CalTrans actually has jurisdiction over the bridge, so this is a partnership project that we’re working on.
CAVANAUGH: Right, and what are the other major art projects currently planned for the Port?
WISE: We have an exciting new public park that will be built called Ruocco Park at Pacific Highway and Harbor Drive. And for that project, the artist, who’s Roman de Salvo, is in the concept development phase. And, again, for those who are interested in the Port’s public art, there will be public meetings for that project as well if people want to come and comment on the artist’s concept proposal when it’s unveiled.
CAVANAUGH: You know, Yvonne, Sunny’s comment sort of triggers in my mind the idea that there are problems with getting people to really sort of support public art. And as a public art director for the Port of San Diego, how do you deal with that?
WISE: Well, it’s – This public art program is part of a public process, and we know that we’re not striving to get artwork that’s, you know, liked or hated by all and that on every piece, there’s going to be, you know, those who are supportive and those who are not supportive. So we try to focus the selection based on clear evaluation criteria as opposed to personal opinion.
CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. Why, though, is public art such a focus for the Port of San Diego? What does it bring to these areas, to the bridge, to the waterfront, what – how – what does it do for San Diego?
WISE: It enlivens our public environment and it also shows the public that the Port does have a visible face in the community and in our public parks by placing artwork in those locations. Right now, the Port has a collection of about 100 artworks, and these artworks are displayed on tidelands throughout the Port’s 5-member cities. I suspect most of your listening audience has seen a couple of the pieces. For instance, adjacent to the convention center is the large Niki de Saint-Phalle artwork called “Coming Together.” Down in Imperial Beach, you may have seen a gateway artwork by Malcolm Jones called “Surfhenge.” And this artwork really serves as an entry marker to Pier Plaza and it serves as a place where people can gather. And the artwork ties into the neighborhood’s surfing heritage. So we have permanent artworks and we have temporary exhibitions of artworks on display. The permanent pieces, so for repeat guests you can come and see the same thing, and then these short time-phased exhibitions of artworks to keep our tidelands constantly dynamic and changing and exciting for viewers.
CAVANAUGH: You know, I, personally, think many of these artworks are absolutely delightful but, you know, there are some people who say, you know, you just can’t create art by committee and it’s going to be – it’s always going to be disappointing. How do you counter that when you come across people who say things like that?
WISE: Well, you know, I think this public process that we do, you know, it’s very robust, there’s multiple opportunities for the public to comment on our projects that are being considered. I’m excited, you know, and I’m really delighted with the collection that the Port has and how we’re moving forward with our future. We have a new Public Art Master Plan that’s going to shape the Port’s public art vision for the future and I think many people will be really excited to see what we’ll be doing.
CAVANAUGH: And, again, take us through how we can see what’s planned for the Port and also those videos of the finalists.
WISE: If you log onto the Port’s website at www.portofsandiego.org and click onto the public art section, there’s a tab right at the top of the screen. You can scroll down for the Coronado Bridge Lighting project and each of the three videos can be seen, and you can also hear the teams speaking about their concepts, which will be much more exciting than how I’ve conveyed them or at least much more robust than how I’ve conveyed them.
CAVANAUGH: And you can see them.
WISE: You can see them as well, yes. And hear, you know, all of the details about the type of lighting. At the bottom of that page, there’s an opportunity for public comment right on the website, as well as those two addresses, the e-mail address and our regular mailing address for the public to provide comments, feedback, input.
CAVANAUGH: And was I right in that the target completion date for this project is, indeed, the 50th anniversary of the bridge?
WISE: I think it’s a great marker but, first, funding would have to be identified, and that’s really going to dictate…
CAVANAUGH: I see.
WISE: …how fast or if at all the project moves forward.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much. You did – You’ve done a wonderful task of actually describing something that is just so visual, just pure light on the bay. Thank you, Yvonne, I appreciate it.
WISE: Thank you for having me, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: Yvonne Wise is public art director for the Port of San Diego. You can check out those websites at the portofsandiego.org or you can comment on what you’ve heard. Go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two. It’s coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.