Saturday, August 03, 2013

Falling Light

Falling Light

Today's installment in obscure public art is actually one of the newest and largest ones I've covered. Falling Light is a huge (108' by 22') installation of glazed concrete blocks on the side of the Pearl District's MachineWorks building, at NW 14th & Marshall.

Falling Light was announced as a "defining feature" of the building, and was funded by the building's developers rather than using public funds. (Which is worth remembering in case your crazy Tea Party uncle ever catches wind of this.) This episode of public-spirited arts patronage makes a lot more sense when you realize that the developers received a generous floor area ratio bonus for including public art in their project. This meant they could put in a few extra floors of premium Class A office space, thus recouping their investment in public art in fairly short order. Because this is a town where art greases the wheels of commerce, at least if you know the right people.

Falling Light

Things didn't go quite as planned, though; the building was built in 2008 and it opened in January 2009, shortly after the national real estate bubble imploded. The building had what was generously termed "a tough opening", and later sold for $40.7M in 2011. I haven't seen a figure for what the building originally cost, so I don't know whether the original developers made their money back or took a bath on the deal.

One thing puzzles me a little about Falling Light. It's on a windowless side of the building, which usually means the adjacent quarter-block is expected to host its own high rise tower someday, instead of the colorful single story building that's there now. When that happens, I imagine Falling Light either gets removed or permanently covered by the new building. Logically, if the art goes, the floor area ratio bonus goes with it, and whoever owns the building at that point has to lop a few floors off the top to keep the building legal. Obviously that never happens in real life, and I'm not saying it would be a good idea. Although the building does host the local Microsoft office these days, and removing those floors off might prevent the next Clippy or Windows Vista or something. So I'd hope the wise and noble commissioners of our fair city won't simply reject the floor-lopping idea out of hand. There could be an upside, that's all I'm saying.

Falling Light Falling Light

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