"The character of a hill under glass"

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October 22, 2002 // UPDATED 1:32 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Linda S. Koutsky
Linda S. Koutsky

South 10th Street & 3rd Avenue South

A wavy birch floor, olive trees, black granite benches, and cascading water are the materials of choice in Maya Lin's first public art piece in Minnesota.

The architect/sculptor who gained notoriety with her prize-winning design for Washington D.C.'s Vietnam Veterans Memorial brought her signature style to the American Express Client Services Center. The atrium-sized artwork's title refers to Lin's contemplation of what would happen if you took a gently rolling landscape and brought it inside. The artwork questions the relationship between indoor and outdoor environments. The cubic geometry of the space provides a framework for the undulating floor and natural elements, so it really does feel like a slice of another place was plopped down in the lobby of this bustling Downtown building.

American Express commissioned Lin to create a space that would delight passersby on 3rd Avenue while providing a peaceful retreat for their building's 3,500 employees. Lin tacked on a three-story addition to create the "winter garden."

The focus of the space is a large outdoor waterfall cascading over a wall of glass. It actually freezes in winter! The glass is temperature-controlled, though, so only about a quarter-inch of ice can build up on the surface at any time. Who would think watching water fall onto a piece of glass would be so mesmerizing? The patterns and textures of the city ripple and distort and make you want to watch forever. It's like those teeter-totter, oil- and water-filled desk accessories popular a few years back--peaceful, hypnotic, calming, beautiful.

The German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, "Architecture is frozen music." Maya Lin's frozen waterfall is a visual poem. We're lucky to have this piece of art in Minnesota.

LUNCH TIP: Unfortunately, the American Express cafeteria right there on the first floor isn't open to the public. So head across 9th Street to Rock Star in the Piper Jaffray Tower for a gallery-style environment and creative menu.

See anything interesting? Please notify thelunchtimetourist@hotmail.com.