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An Art Proposal for Penrose Square

Penrose Square, an urban town square along the busy Columbia Pike Corridor, will be the first of three new squares in Arlington, Virginia, which is part of a larger city revitalization effort. Artist Richard Deutsch and landscape architect Don Hoover of Oculus formed a design team and were invited to develop a Master Plan to create an artful multi-use-square to serve and enhance the residential life and business community of the Penrose area. Their planning scope involved a dynamic collaborative effort between Arlington County staff administrator Carol Ann Perovshek, a highly involved and spirited County Board-appointed-citizen group, Public Art Administrator for Arlington County Cultural Affairs, Angela Adams, the Arlington Commission for the Arts, designer Ross Smith of Deutsch Studio, and colleague Robin Lollar of Oculus. Arlington’s vision is that “public art should be a force for place making, for creating strong, meaningful connections between people and places that are important to community and civic life. This vision will continue Arlington’s tradition of innovation and leadership, and sets the stage for the creation of public places with civic distinction” {Public Art in Public Places, The Public Art Master Plan for Arlington, VA.}. With this goal at the forefront, Deutsch Studio and Oculus set out to create a unique and functional place that had relevance, beauty, and meaning, and one which would further add a sense of belonging to this diverse and vital community. This presentation describes Echo, the art component for Penrose Square. The design for Penrose Square, nearly an acre, includes an interactive water feature, shaded and lawn areas, paved areas for activity and performances, and many places to gather and play. Within this vibrant, versatile place is Echo, a dramatic and interactive sculpture. Echo will be a luminary and theatrical place marker contributing to Arlington's developing cultural cityscape. It will stand as a meaningful symbol honoring Arlington's industrious and innovative leadership in the history of radio communication, while inspiring its rich and promising future.

Graphic illustration of Arlington-Honolulu and Arlington-Paris radiophone tests. The distance covered was 4,900 and 3,800 miles respectively. The announcement was given out at the offices of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. on October 20, 1915.

The "Three Sisters" radio towers are shown in the background during a military cavalry practice. Two of the towers stand 450 feet high and one soared to 600 feet high. Photograph: Arlington VA circa 1913

ECHO History to Concept

While they may seem quaint or even primitive by modern standards, the Navy's Radio Station Arlington Towers represented the cutting edge in communications technology when completed in 1913. In their day, "The Three Sisters," as they were known, were the worldç—´ second largest man-madestructure behind the Eiffel Tower, which was built 24 years earlier. The tallest of the three towers stood a full 45-feet-higher than the Washington Monument. Two of the towers climbed to 450 feet; the third soared to 650 feet and was visible from over 40 miles away. Located at the intersection of Columbia Pike and Courthouse Road in the Penrose neighborhood of Arlington, the towers were built by the Navy to establish a worldwide communications network. Using the call letters NAA, the towers provided the first long-distance radio conversation, the first trans-oceanic-radio telephone circuit (fittingly, to a French station broadcasting from the Eiffel Tower), and introduced regular broadcasts of time signals, which were important to ships who relied on accurate time checks for navigation. Upon the opening of the National Airport in 1941, the towers were taken down, as they were considered to be an aviation hazard. German physicist Heinrich Hertz, who clarified and expanded electromagnetic theory, was the first to demonstrate the existence of radio waves. By building an apparatus that produced and detected VHF or UHF radio waves twelve meters apart, he unleashed the future of radio communication. Twenty-five-years later Arlington had a breakthrough radio broadcast that reached the Eiffel Tower. This unique era is captured by the sculpture Echo, which celebrates the historic moment of communication between the two nations, an event that put Arlington, Virginia in the eye of the world.

Radio Station Arlington, in 1913, on South Courthouse Road and South 8th Street in the Penrose neighborhood

The Eiffel Tower in Paris received the first radio signal across the Atlantic from the "Three Sisters Towers" in Arlington's Penrose neighborhood on Oct.12, 1915.

Science to Concept Carved deep within the face of each monolith stone is a concave elliptical parabola. This carved, polished shape is based on the physics of sound waves and is designed to reflect and project sound providing an interactive experience for the viewer. One stone faces the other. When one speaks into the first stone, listeners standing 100 feet away at the other stone, will hear clearly the voice and can have a conversation. The physics of these shapes are curious and intriguing. Sculptor Richard Deutsch will work with a physicist specializing in the physics of sound to develop the perfect shape to accomplish this dynamic event. The sculpture ECHO will be a modern interpretation of Arlington's significant contribution to the history of communication.

Depending on the shape of the parabola, the focal point changes. In the case of Echo, the focal point will be a few feet from the granite stone faces.

Concept to Design

The sculpture, each component weighing 25 tons, consists of two monoliths (11' high x 8' wide x 2' deep) sculpted from white granite. The forms stand approximately 100-feet-apart from one another. Along with a dramatic water feature gracing the main central area of the square, the sculpture will further define the space and the experience that one has while moving through Penrose Square. Echo brings a unique identity to Penrose Square, by offering a reminder of Arlington's significant contributions to the history of radio communications while providing a modern-day-view to Arlington’s future. The artistic concept and the sculptor's approach to simplicity of shape will remain relevant to the community for many years to come. White granite has the strength, durability, and longevity to weather well and to remain conceptually current for decades.

Early concept drawing

Study model illustrates square access and placement of sculptures

Echo Penrose Square

Echo at Penrose Square  

Proposal for Urban Design in Arlington County

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