California Cruisin': Enjoying the Viewpoints
LASN December 2016 Hardscapes
By Alli Rael, LASN
California's Pacific Coast Highway stretches over 650 miles from Leggett in Mendocino County (181 miles north of San Francisco) to Dana Point in Orange County (63 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport). Stretches of it run concurrently with the 101 freeway, notably in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and across the Golden Gate Bridge. The route is popular for its scenic beauty, which was recently enhanced at several vista points along the highway.
Landscape architect Corby Kilmer from the California Department of Transportation worked with designer Alice Taylor and senior project manager Ron Blair from the Iowa-based Creative Edge Master Shop to design, fabricate and install four life-size granite animals to inform and entertain visitors traveling Pacific Coast Highway. Kilmer came up with the idea for the project, inspired by an artist who had painted a life-size gray whale in the parking lot of a scenic viewpoint. After seeing a children's play area with animals made of cut stone inlaid into pavement, she saw the possibility of relocating and enhancing the whale.
Kilmer's preliminary drawings were handed over to Taylor, who transformed them into computer artwork suitable for cutting from stone. State biologists contributed to assure the authenticity of each animal's physical structure, size, and coloration. Three-centimeter thermal granite was the base material chosen for each of the animals. The granite was cut with a waterjet - a tool used to cut a wide variety of materials using a high-pressure jet of water or a mixture of water and an abrasive substance, depending on the material to be cut. For hard materials including granite, water with an abrasive substance is used. The use of special software and 3-D machining heads allow the production of complex and precise shapes.
Each animal, which have in common their extinction or threat of near-extinction, was installed in the paving at a viewpoint. The California condor, which has a 10-foot wingspan, was installed at a viewpoint in the Big Sur area. The 50-foot long grey whale with calf was also installed in this area. The sea otter, about 3 feet in length, is surrounded by granite seaweed on Highway 101 near Gaviota. The California grizzly bear, the same species that adorns the state flag, was installed in the San Marcos Pass, a backroad of the 101. The animals are life-sized to enhance the understanding about that animal and its place in California's ecology and history: for example, seeing how big the grizzly bear actually was may heighten the understanding of what it was like for the native people and earliest settlers to experience the animal as part of everyday life.
In addition to flamed and polished granite, polished stone, quartz, stainless steel and more were added as accents. For example, the otter whiskers and grizzly bear claws are stainless steel.
The stone mosaic animals are accompanied by interpretive displays mounted on boulders as well as protective bollards. The goal of the placement of the displays was to make them an optional experience - to place them in such a way that the information was there without disrupting the purpose of the viewpoint, which is, of course, to enjoy the view. The biggest challenge was finding free or very low cost images to use in the displays, acquiring copyright permissions, and getting permission for Caltrans to fund the mosaics.
The project took about three years of planning and design, and a year to build, with a budget of $699,000.