Merriam gets glimpse of idea for public art placement at Johnson Drive and Merriam Drive

The rendering shows a proposal for a stone tower with interior wind chime. The concept is an idea for a public art project at Johnson Drive and Merriam Lane.
The rendering shows a proposal for a stone tower with interior wind chime. The concept is an idea for a public art project at Johnson Drive and Merriam Lane.

Merriam this week got a first glimpse of a proposal for a public art piece that could be placed at the corner of Johnson Drive and Merriam Drive. The limestone tower would feature a large wind chime suspended inside the tower.

The presentation this week to the Merriam City Council was informational only and no decision has been made about accepting the proposal for funding and placement. The city does have money budgeted in 2015 for a place-making piece of public art.

The limestone tower, complemented by native grasses, was the creation of DRAW architecture + urban design, a Kansas City firm with experience in public art placement. James Martin, a Merriam resident who served as a consultant to the art committee, said 125 submissions were received to a call for qualifications. Eventually, the committee worked its way down to four design proposals and recommended the DRAW design as the leading candidate. Martin said the “winning proposal should take into account the entire plaza space” which is the northwest corner of the intersection.

Dan Maginn, a principal at DRAW, explained the concept to the council, saying the goal is to create a “gathering place in Merriam with a site activated musical instrument,” using stone, wind and pipes. He described the site is “loud, gritty, hectic and exposed” with not a lot of people walking around. “It is what it is,” Maginn said.

The site is next to Turkey Creek, which is lined with limestone, and has a strong wind from the south, he said. The pipes would reference Merriam industry and create a “deeply resonant wind chime.” Wind would enter the 16-foot tall stone tower through a four-foot tall wind scoop. Maginn said his firm would work with a composer at UMKC to tune the approximately 10-foot chime, which could play off the same notes used for train horns (although it would not sound like a train horn), another reference to Merriam’s active train lines which run nearby.

The stone ties into the heritage of the region, Maginn said, and he noted that the name of the Kansa tribe, the first inhabitants, means “people of the south wind.” The native grasses around the tower also would be rippled by the wind. The plaza also would have seating areas.

The council did not discuss the merits of the proposal, but did ask some clarifying questions. It is expected to take the proposal up at a July meeting. City administrator Phil Lammers said this is the first of five place-making art projects that the city hopes to fund in the future.

The northwest corner of the intersection as it currently exists.
The northwest corner of the intersection as it currently exists.