The Herbert Bayer Earthwork
||A dam in the ordinary sense constitutes a radical interference with the natural configuration of the land. My intent was, therefore, to give the dams a natural appearance conforming to the landscape . . .
– Herbert Bayer, King County Arts Commission newsletter, August
As a Bauhaus master, Herbert Bayer’s entire career was dedicated to integrating artistic concerns into the everyday operations of society. With the Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks, he created a much loved public park, a stormwater detention dam and a Modernist masterpiece. Installed in 1982, the Earthworks was immediately lauded for its fusion of art and infrastructure, making the installation a powerful precedent for engineers, landscape architects and artists.
A series of sculpted spaces that feel both ancient and modern, the Earthworks’ pure forms—cones, circles, lines and berms—are built into the alluvial delta at the mouth of Mill Creek Canyon. Grass and concrete, a wood bridge and steps: these are the materials at work, joined by the natural forces of Mill Creek itself.
[editor's note: When Herbert Bayer first began exploring land art in Aspen, CO in 1955, the term earthwork didn't exist. The title of the artwork in Kent is the "Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks," but we often refer to it as the "Earthwork", or to the "Herbert Bayer Earthwork" to distinguish it from Robert Morris' work. ]
These aerial photographs illustrate how the Herbert Bayer Earthworks performs during a storm event. While they are not taken from exactly the same orientation, you can still see how the double-ring pond is submerged underwater in the photograph on the left, with the split-rings barely rises above the surface. You can also see how the large berm functions as both a sculptural element and earthen dam, preventing the stormwater from flooding downtown Kent.
Restoration & Landmark Designation
In April 2008, Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks was proclaimed "exceptionally significant" and became the City of Kent's first landmark.
Later that summer, the Earthworks underwent a dam safety construction project. This project was necessary because state regulations required the dam to meet a 10,000 year storm event, an increase from the dam's original 100-year storm design. Substanatial changes were made to the dam's main berm and spillways to meet this increase in stormwater capacity.
After removing invasive plants, Earth Day volunteers pose with the Partners in Preservation "Vote Eartworks: Kent's Dam Park" yard signs, 2010.
The Kent Arts Commission is committed to honoring the physical and conceptual aspects that comprise Herbert Bayer's original design. Generous support for the first phase of restoration came from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation's "Partners in Preservation" program and a 4Culture Landmark Challenge grant. The funding allowed the City of Kent to improve drainage in the bowls, repave the pathways, restore the double-ring pond and restore the view corridor along the stream.
Kent’s “Dam” Park Wins $70,000 “Partners in Preservation” Award Thanks to Community Support
KENT, Wash. — June 15, 2010 — American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced today Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks Park has been named recipient of a $70,000 grant award in the 2010 “Partners in Preservation” program. One of 25 historic place contenders, Herbert Bayer Earthworks competed in a month long contest where the public voted online for their favorite places to receive funding.
“We couldn’t have done it without the public’s support,” said Cheryl dos Remedios, Visual Arts Coordinator for the City of Kent. “Their votes really made a difference. We finished in 12th place with three percent of the vote.”
Grant winners were chosen by an Advisory Committee comprised of civic and preservation leaders from the Seattle-Puget Sound area, as well as representatives from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Factors that were considered in the selection process included public voting results and community support for the project, the preservation needs of the site, historic significance, project completion ability, and the role the site plays in the community.
“Funding from this grant will be used to restore the sculptural and artistic elements of the Earthworks to their original design. This includes restoring the channel that runs through the split ring and connects into the double ring pond. We’ll also fix drainage in the bowls of the park and repave pathways,” Remedios said.
The Earthworks is not only an internationally recognized artwork and popular public park but it also serves as a water detention dam, protecting the Kent Valley from flooding since its opening in 1982.
See also Kent's Earthworks Park to get much needed facelift, thanks to grant by Steve Hunter of the Kent Reporter, and City of Kent receives $70,000 grant for Earthworks Park.
Earthworks Park Restoration, Phase 1, October - December, 2011 (photos: Kent Arts Commission and Kent Parks Planning)
Essays and Studio
With tongue firmly in cheek, the channeling herbert exhibition provided contemporary comment on Bayer's design in the face of change. As part of the 25th Anniversary Earthworks Celebration, the Kent Arts Commission invited respected artists, landscape architects and historians to participate in this exhibit. Images and essays by over thirty-five participants allow for a deeper understanding of Herbert Bayer's influence.
As much as Herbert Bayer created a physical place, he also created a model for interdisciplinary collaboration. In this spirit, in 2007 the Kent Arts Commission asked a University of Washington Studio to collaborate with Kent Public Works to address new storm water regulations and vegetation management. The Studio also reviewed archival documents to clarify Bayer's vision for his project, as it was designed and as it has aged. The City of Kent Public Works Department hopes to incorporate some of the students' design solutions into future projects along the canyon.
"Park" does not begin to describe the critically acclaimed land art to be found [in the Green River Valley]. For the last 40 years, forward-thinking arts commissioners and government employees have explored creative alliances, nontraditional funding sources, existing land-use regulations, and a public process to reclaim and reshape these lands.
"Earthworks: Art & Landscape in Washington's Green River Valley"
by Cheryl dos Remedios
Forum Journal, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Twenty-five years ago, in the younger, bolder days of Washington's public-art programs, the mayor of a small city south of Seattle latched onto a grand vision for a public-works project. The engineering need was straightforward: a dam that would prevent stormwaters from deluging the city.
"Work of art, work of Earth"
by Sheila Farr, Seattle Times art critic
Herbert Bayer was born in the hamlet of Haag, Austria, on April 5, 1900. His father, a government revenue officer, and mother encouraged young Herbert’s interest in nature and art, allowing him to roam into the hills and mountains near his childhood home in Linz with his sketchbook.
"Herbert Bayer (1900-1985): Profile of an Environmental Artist"
by Catherine Maggio and Brice Maryman
The Cultural Landscape Foundation
Formal recognition of historic properties through landmark designation is typically confined to sites that are at least 40 years old or older – and rarely is a property found to be of such exceptional significance that the age criterion is waived. But such was the case on April 24, 2008 when the King County Landmarks Commission, acting for the City of Kent, designated the Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks as a City of Kent Landmark. Nominated by the Kent Arts Commission, the Earthworks is the City’s first designated landmark.
"Earthworks Designated Historic Landmark"
by Julie Koler and Cheryl dos Remedios
In 1979, The King County Arts Commission convened a symposium entitled Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Scupture, and invited eight artists to create reclamation plans, choosing from more than 100 industrial sites lying fallow in the county. The commissione hoped ot address the ecological issues at each site while converting the landscapes into usable community spaces through earthwork designs.
"Landslide 2008 Marvels of Modernism: Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks"
by Brice Maryman and Cheryl dos Remedios,
Kent Arts Commission and The Cultural Landscape Foundation
final 2008 dam construction drawings, courtesy City of Kent Environmental Engineering
1984 earthworks site development plan, page 1, courtesy City of Kent Environmental Engineeering
1984 earthworks site development plan, page 2, courtesy City of Kent Environmental Engineeering
landmark nomination, by Brice Maryman on behalf of the Kent Arts Commission
landmark designation, courtesy Kent Landmarks Commission
channeling herbert, collection of essays on the significance of the Herbert Bayer Earthworks
Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture 1981 Technical Report, courtesy King County
Introduction, pages 1-19
Project Development, pages 20-29
Phase I: Morris Earthwork Sculpture, pages 30-55
Phase II: Earthworks Symposium, pages 56-60
Bayer Earthwork, pages 61-63
Conclusions, pages 64-66
For more information, please contact Ronda Billerbeck, Cultural Programs Manager