THE MONOLITH

2005 • Turtle Bay Discovery Park, Redding, CA

Concrete, stone, aggregate, cast bronze, aluminum hard hats,

silt wash, water, gold leaf, porcelain enamel plates. 10,000 sq. ft. site.

The concrete structure of The Monolith – all that remains of the Kutras Tract Aggregate Plant – was “recycled” in 2000 to become the armature for a public art commission. My approach was to tell the story of this historic site, which served as the source of aggregate for constructing Shasta Dam. The remaining concrete mill building is beautiful in its honesty and strength, and illustrates what I call “Poetic Utility.” The Monolith serves as a significant counterbalance to the elegant dam it helped to build. Telling the story of this place aesthetically allows a process of discovery and investigation for visitors that complements the experience of the space.


After the aggregate plant ceased operation in 1945, the site was stripped of machinery and metal building parts, leaving the concrete relic that eventually became known locally as “The Monolith.” This structure served as an informal, ad hoc social gathering place for years. Perhaps its attraction was the rich geometry of the solar shadow plays, the classical sense of proportion in its architecture, or the refuge its massive concrete walls provided from summer heat. This public appreciation influenced my concepts on how this site could continue to facilitate public engagement, either individually or as a gathering place.


My first task was to be both historian and archeologist, researching and then uncovering years of fill to re-expose the mill building’s original floor and, with it, a number of unanticipated opportunities. The project became a dynamic process, revealing in the ensuing years its hidden story and my response to it. This project has balanced the honoring of the workers at the plant with that of the Sacramento River. The support of Turtle Bay Exploration Park in allowing this process to move forward over the past five years is commendable. This process has enabled me time to create meaningful, site-specific art work with an aesthetic that is unique to this place and its story. Phase One is complete, including unanticipated structural and code compliance issues, and the site is now ready for Phase Two.


Sustainability is a guiding principle of Turtle Bay Exploration Park and The Monolith project. The balance between man’s intervention and nature’s determination is key to the story being told. For example, by returning the landscape to one that was reminiscent of an aggregate plant the site no longer required heavy irrigation, fertilization, or mowing of grass. The water features are part of a detention and future recirculation system. The Solar Shasta Dam, proposed in 2000, exemplifies the poetic utility approach by being capable of producing a significant amount of electrical power. The commanding scale of the solar array provides presence and visual balance to The Monolith and surrounding park features, complementing another engineering achievement, the nearby Sundial Bridge by Santiago Calatrava.

© 2005 Buster Simpson

VIEW the Full Project PDFhttp://www.bustersimpson.net/monolith/monolith2005-bustersimpson.pdf

Site Design by Todd Metten

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