skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

Wings’ of Freedom Are Actually Sails, But They’re Abstract

A chat with one of the designers of a sculpture that may be built on the San Diego bayfront.


Aired 1/6/12

One of the designers of the controversial "Wings of Freedom" sculpture defends the idea to create what he believes may be an iconic structure on the bay.

— “Wings of Freedom” is the name of a pair of 500-foot-tall sculptures that might be built right on San Diego bay, at the end of Navy Pier. Two architects have designed a model, and a wealthy donor has pledged $35 million to build the wings. It’s being promoted as a future San Diego icon. But the idea has as many opponents as boosters.

One of the architects who designed the sculpture is Greg Mueller, who spoke with KPBS Morning Edition host Tom Fudge. He said the idea for the sculpture came when he, and co-designer Hal Sadler, were looking at sailboats.

A rendering of the
Enlarge this image

Above: A rendering of the "Wings of Freedom" sculpture being proposed for the tip of Navy Pier in downtown San Diego.

Mueller: We took several images and Hal and I were looking at them and came up with a few that showed ships tacking against each other. And the ones that were the most dynamic were the ones where one ship had stolen the wind from the other and was advancing forward. So we used that image and came with several different forms. So we abstracted the new image from a sailing photo.

Fudge: This is called “Wings of Freedom,” and a lot of people think they’re wings of an aircraft.

Mueller: It’s actually sailing. But it’s been coined “Wings of Freedom,” by the Midway (Museum), which is the sponsor of the project.

Fudge: It’s interesting that you said this is an abstraction. It’s meant to be abstract, not representational?

Mueller: It’s an abstraction. When you look at it you may see wings. Aviation is a big part of San Diego. There are a lot of things that have been invented here. So that’s part of the city’s root. But if you look at it and you see sails, that’s great. If you see wings… It’s up to the beholder. It’s an abstraction.

Fudge: What is this thing going to look like when it’s on the bay? Will it be made out of metal? Will the sun shine off of it? Give us a little more of a feel for what it’s going to be.

Mueller: As it’s proposed right now, we have it wrapped with titanium. The wings are convex, like they are filled with air. So it’s not seen as a flat sheet. So it’s going to reflect light differently with each time of the day. And as you walk around the sail it’s going to change, depending on the light that’s being reflected off of it.

Fudge: Well tell me, why is this sculpture you’re proposing so special, so spectacular, that it deserves to be right on San Diego Bay, that it deserves to be 500 feet tall, that it deserves $35 million of anybody’s money?

Mueller: The design of this is something that really, truly represents San Diego as a whole. It is something that people can identify with, they can interact with, they can be a part of it. The idea of this structure is that it is meant to be visually appealing. It’s meant to have an iconic representation, whether you’re flying in, whether you’re coming in on a cruise ship, whether you are walking the embarcadero, it’s mean to enhance your visit to San Diego.

Fudge: I know some people who hate the name, Wings of Freedom. They think it’s hokey and pseudo-patriotic. What do you say to that, and do you think the name is significant.

Mueller: I think that at this point the name is just the name that is being used for the project. I think it’s up to the Midway, our donor and others as to what the final name might be. But Wings of Freedom, from the standpoint of what this pier meant to San Diego, this is where family came during World War II and said goodbye to their family members who boarded ships to fight in World War II. And this is where they came back.

So the idea of the joys of freedom that we partake in… it made sense.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.


Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | January 6, 2012 at 2:25 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

In times of massive public deficits, crumbling infrastructure, and dwindling civic pride, donating $35 million to create abstract art is the absolute LAST thing we need.

How about donating $35 million to rebuilding the hideous and non-functional City Hall? Something all citizens could USE and be proud of?

Or how about fixing up some blighted parks, paving roads, funding small business loans, or building homeless shelters?

But abstract art? Maybe it will be appropriate in the distant future, but now it is just a slap in the face to all who are struggling.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'scb3'

scb3 | January 7, 2012 at 4:40 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

Building this at 50 or 100 feet might result in a beautiful addition to the city, but a sculpture 200 feet tall would be entirely out of scale with people and the city. A gross monstrosity at 500 feet tall would blight the city as long as it stands, regardless of the price tag and fancy silvery material. Those in power, please reject this terrible expression of designer ego!

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'David45'

David45 | January 12, 2012 at 12:40 p.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

The only thing more arrogant and audacious than a sculpture as grotesquely out of proportion as this eye-sore, is the moniker wings of freedom. A complete embarrassment. I suppose it'll be a nice bookend to the tacky and cheap looking chintz of an otherwise iconic photo, across the Midway by the Fish Market.

( | suggest removal )

Avatar for user 'DanDiego'

DanDiego | January 15, 2012 at 10:53 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

A world class monument, if done well, could put San Diego in the same league as other cities and identify its skyline like the Seattle Space Needle, the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House and one of my favorites, the St. Louis Gateway Arch. The Arch is simple, elegant, does not block much area, and has an observation area to generate tourism revenue. It literally put St. Louis on the map of world's tallest structures and I believe cost less than some other efforts.

One of the reasons for building something really tall is for people to enjoy the view of their city from the top. Driving across our Coronado Bridge provides a taste of this.

I don't care for the giant wings design and I don't think abstract art needs to be 500 feet tall to be appreciated. Let's build something more like the Gateway Arch, with a minimal footprint, elegant simplicity and some revenue generation.

( | suggest removal )