Another one of my favorite examples of a challenging public utility transformed by an artist is the wastewater treatment plant, or water reclamation project. The King County South Treatment Plant is a 95-acre wastewater treatment plant located in the outlying Seattle suburb of Renton, Washington, and operated by the City of Kent. In 1990, King County collaborated with environmental artist Lorna Jordan to create Waterworks Gardens Park (1990-1996), and the result is a masterpiece. In the words of the artist:
Instead of an “out of sight, out of mind” approach, I proposed an environmental art/public works project that invites people to observe the natural processes of water purification while connecting them to the cycles and mysteries of water.
Waterworks Gardens is an environmental artwork that treats stormwater, enhances a wetland, provides garden rooms, and creates eight acres of new open space for public use. Stormwater runoff is collected from the grounds of the wastewater reclamation plant and put through eleven ponds where contaminates and sediments are allowed to settle. The water is then released into the wetlands which sustain plants, microorganisms, and wildlife. The stormwater treatment ponds and the wetlands form an earth/water sculpture that funnels, captures, and releases water. Jordan’s website expresses her preference for the collaborative process in developing her artwork.
The City of Kent, recognizing its multiple “earthworks” artistic features—which also includes the Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks Park, the Green River Natural Resources Area, and Robert Morris’ Earthwork—has collaborated with area arts and culture organizations, bicycling clubs, and preservationists to develop self-guided tour maps and directions for its residents and visitors.
Next to the main administration is a fabulous example of a public art water sculpture, which I captured on video.
Waterworks Gardens is a project of the King County Public Arts Program and the King County Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the City of Renton, with funding through the King County One-Percent-for-Art program. King County has integrated public art and community involvement in the design of a multitude of its public works projects, including for water reclamation, wetlands recovery, and pump stations.