Oct. 16, 2006 -- People used to the gritty-looking industrial shoreline along the Elizabeth River will be in for a surprise this month if they gaze up at the giant Lafarge cement silos in Money Point, a bend in the river nestled in the larger South Norfolk-Portlock neighborhood of Chesapeake, Va.
Floating majestically in the wind will be three enormous banners, or “yellow kites,” as Sanda Iliescu, one of their artist-creators, describes them. Iliescu, assistant professor of art and architecture at the University of Virginia, said that the kites will be large enough to hang the length of Lafarge’s towering silos and to be seen for miles.
The banners are the collaborative creation of Iliescu and her U.Va. colleague, assistant professor of architecture Phoebe Crisman. For the past two years Crisman, whose professional work combines architecture and urban planning, has collaborated with a task force to develop a sweeping revitalization plan for the heavily polluted Money Point area.
Spearheaded by the Elizabeth River Project, the plan calls for a host of environmental improvements in Money Point, which encompasses a dozen industrially owned parcels and a small residential neighborhood. Over the next 10 years, this revitalization effort will run concurrently with a $5.5 million cleanup of contaminated sediment at the bottom of the Elizabeth River.
For Crisman, the highly visible “kites” are a way of drawing attention to changes in the area that may be harder to see but are no less breathtaking.
“Historically so much has gone wrong in Money Point,” Crisman said. “The big question for us was how to imagine a future that’s much brighter for the environment in the area than the past has been.”
High atop the list of improvements will be cleaning the river bottom near Money Point. The sediment there contains some of the highest recorded concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a known human carcinogen, in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Decades ago two industrial accidents in Money Point spilled more than 150,000 gallons of creosote into the river.
Other changes called for in the revitalization plan include the creation of a 100-foot-wide buffer of vegetation designed to filter out chemicals from storm water running off Money Point into the river and the construction of a playground, sidewalks and other civic improvements in the small Money Point residential community. Approximately 100 people live in Money Point today, down from several thousand residents decades ago.
In designing the banners, Crisman and Iliescu were inspired by the shape and yellow hues of native wetland grasses. “Phoebe and I see this project as a metaphoric journey of rejuvenation,” Iliescu said. “One that starts at the water, climbs up to the sky, and then returns to the earth and the people in a transformed shape.”
Poetic as that may sound, hanging the 10-foot-wide banners will require a feat of engineering. Each banner will be suspended from steel beams mounted atop the Lafarge cement silos and will be able to swivel back and forth, thanks to a structural steel hanger system that Crisman and Iliescu designed. The banners are made of polyethylene and suspended from recycled steel pipes.
A team of 20 U.Va. students from the School of Architecture, the McIntire Department of Art and the English department created patchwork “tails,” made from recycled plastics, for the “kites.” The project was developed to honor the work of the Money Point Revitalization Task Force, composed of area residents, businesses, local government and state and federal officials. This effort has been supported by a grant from the Andrus Family Fund to U.Va.’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation.
Crisman, Iliescu, representatives from the Elizabeth River Project, Lafarge Chesapeake Terminal, community members and other businesses and government officials will be present at the Oct. 19 ceremony, when all three banners will be hoisted atop the silos.
For more information about the Money Point public art project, please contact Phoebe Crisman at (434) 924-1006 or Sanda Iliescu at (434) 924-1028.