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Here's how a developer is turning a drab parking deck into a huge art piece

Ely Portillo, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Home and Consumer News

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Workers in hoists are assembling a "gigantic 3D puzzle" to cover up part of a new apartment development in uptown Charlotte, replacing blank concrete faces with something more visually interesting.

The piece, called "Wanderwall," is underway on Crescent Communities' Novel Stonewall Station project. The development includes 459 apartments, a Whole Foods planning to open June 13 and two hotels under construction on adjacent lots.

Despite being next to a light-rail station, the development still includes a 1,350-space, above-ground parking deck meant to accommodate apartment dwellers, hotel guests and shoppers. There's a city ordinance requiring parking decks to be screened with metal louvers or grates, but the imposing, blank facade still represented a daunting challenge to the building's appearance.

"It is our hope that 'Wanderwall' becomes one of the iconic sights around our city and inspires more investment in public art to enhance and define uptown," said Jim Kwasnowski, vice president of development at Crescent.

Covering 18,000 square feet, "Wanderwall" is made up of thousands of pieces of perforated aluminum, bolted to the building like a second skin. Installation is expected to be complete by late June.

Brooklyn-based artist and architect Marc Fornes is behind the project. Each piece is attached to an anchor and a frame. Individually, the several-foot-long pieces are light enough to lift easily and soft enough to bend by hand. When attached, the entire structure will be rigid and strong, however.

"We're interested in producing several scales of experience with this piece. It acts as an iconic signal in uptown, drawing interest from a great distance, at the speed of a car or a casual stroll," said Fornes. "It's made for different scales of perception."

Designed in Brooklyn and manufactured in Indiana before being shipped to Charlotte, each of the thousands of pieces that make up the facade is custom-cut from aluminum sheets, folded into the right shape and marked with a custom identification number that specifies its exact location in the finished piece.

"This would not be possible without digital technology," said Fornes. A misplaced piece would not only mess up the design, it could compromise the structure. "It's one unified system. That's why it looks so light."

The pleated design means that shadows will change the appearance of the facade throughout the day as the sun moves.

The undulating patterns can be interpreted different ways by different viewers, Fornes said. Perhaps a banker would see something similar to a finance chart, while a nature lover might see swirls of water or leaves.

"What is the logic? It's up to you to find it," he said. "Everyone will project something."

Crescent is funding the artwork, and executives declined to give a total price. The Arts & Science Council partnered with Crescent to support and help plan the piece, connecting them with Fornes.

"'Wanderwall' creates a new gateway into uptown Charlotte from the South End, and its prominent location ensures high visibility from major roadways as well as a more intimate vantage point experienced by pedestrians and cyclists entering uptown," said ASC vice president of public art Carla Hanzal.

(c)2018 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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