Artfully Edmonds: Round and around we’ll go

The three proposals for roundabout art.
The three proposals for roundabout art. (Photo by Juliet Brewster)

Thursday night was the Edmonds Arts Commission’s first look at three project proposals for the future Five Corners Roundabout. Out of 22 submitted applications, the jury invited CJ Rench, Julie Berger, and Stuart Nakamura to create models for the 21-foot roundabout. About 10 members of the public observed the presentations and jury reactions, and we were invited to give our input at the end of the process. By Friday morning, the jury will have selected one of these proposals to recommend to City Council. The final decision will be made in a public hearing at a City Council meeting, when the Mayor and City Council give their required approval for the large piece of public art.

Before I go into the details of Thursday night’s presentations, check out all there is to do this weekend while we eagerly await the jury’s recommendation…

Friday night – Red Petal Tunes and a live band at the Corner Bar & Café in Perrinville

Saturday – music at the market, and a refresher course in humanity at the Edmonds Bookshop at noon: Robert Taylor speaks about his book, “A New Way to be Human: 7 Spiritual Pathways to Becoming Fully Alive”

Saturday night – Waldo Pub Crawl! Leaves from the Edmonds Bookshop at 8:30 p.m. Trivia, a poetry slam, free-flowing booze, and lots to look for all night long!

Sunday – Gypsy Soul at 3 p.m. in City Park

And later in the week:

Roberto the Magnificent
Roberto the Magnificent

On Tuesday, Roberto the Magnificent’s Crazy Comedy Stunt Show blazes through Hazel Miller Plaza at noon.

The Thursday evening Happy Hour show in Hazel Miller Plaza features Bill Anschell, Brent Jensen, and Chris Symer playing Anschell’s compositions on jazz piano. Anschell’s music has been played on two of mine and my dad’s favorite TV shows – “The West Wing” and “The Wire”

Call to Artists

The Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation is now accepting submissions for the 2014 Arts Festival Poster Artist. Application should include a letter of interest, five small printed samples of previous artwork, and a resume. The selected artist will be paid $1,500 and will reserve the rights to all work created for the festival. Mail submissions by the Aug.15 deadline to:
Poster Committee, Edmonds Arts Festival
P.O. Box 212
Edmonds, WA 98020

Now, to the roundabout…

The selection committee for the 5 Corners Roundabout project includes City of Edmonds Engineering Technician JoAnne Zulauf; Kristiana Johnson of City Council; Marni Muir and Frances Chapin of the Arts Commission; Billie Swengel, a Five Corners business proprietor; and Mary Pat Byrne, a visiting arts professional. The city decided that a visual obstruction in the new roundabout would be necessary for drivers learning how to navigate the intersection. Blocking the view of cars entering at the other side of the roundabout will ease anxiety about entering, and will promote continuous traffic flow from all five sides. Artists were instructed to design within state highway safety requirements, to make a piece that will last a long time with minimal maintenance, that will resist vandalism, will reflect the spirit of the neighborhood and “its role as a gateway to the larger community,” and most important, that won’t distract drivers by calling too much attention to the center of the traffic circle. With those guidelines, the project sounds kind of boring, but the three designs we saw Thursday were completely distinct, and any of the three would have an enormous effect on the character of Five Corners.

Each artist chose a different aspect of the project to focus on while designing a proposal. Rench, who runs a studio in Hood River, Ore. that erects large public art pieces all over the country, wanted to literally tie the community together using our connection to the Sound as his theme. Berger was more focused on the problem of traffic flow in the city’s first true roundabout, and, also inspired by our connection to the water, created a piece that drivers will instinctively want to drive around. Nakamura chose to go with a subtler suggestion of five-point rotational symmetry, naming his piece after the roundel, a circular medieval dance, and using heavy symbolism to highlight Edmonds’ past and present.

CJ Rench – “Drawn to the Water: Connected by Community”
CJ Rench – “Drawn to the Water: Connected by Community”

Rench and his head welder, Wit, noticed that in Edmonds, all roads eventually lead back to our water. They designed a sort of monument to the Sound, with the inner stainless steel monolith representing the water and the rusty pilings showing aspects of our community bound to the Sound with five steel cables. The 13-foot stainless steel center has a blue glass ceiling, which will be illuminated, connecting Sound to sky. While the seasons change the colors in the rusty patina on the outer pilings, the center will remain the gem of Edmonds. When asked how he would keep the nearby high school students from climbing the structure, Rench joked that, ironically, he is currently working with Red Bull to design the world’s first skate-able sculpture in Jefferson Park in Seattle—but he would leave us with a stainless steel cleaner that is greasy enough to deter opportunistic climbers.

Julie Berger – “Echo Round”
Julie Berger – “Echo Round”

Berger, who has brought a glass and steel forest back to Burien, and a concrete creek to Mill Creek, said she always bases her designs on a narrative. If there isn’t a story to tell, she’s not interested in illustrating it. She laid her process out for us—how she moved from thinking about the conundrum of a traffic circle to echolocation is a somewhat tenuous chain of events, but is the perfect example of an artist at work. Berger proposed that a traffic circle creates a kind of micro-community, where the only way around it is to have the courage to cooperate with fellow drivers. She likened this idea to a pod of Orcas using echolocation to circle their prey. From there, she came up with her design: a ripple made of 5-inch powder-coated steel pipes set 5 inches apart around the top of the mounded traffic circle. It is a dynamic piece, where the motion and lights of the cars suggests both water and sound waves. She would light it strategically from the inside in reference to the five corners, and imagines the sculpture to be especially powerful on a rainy night. While the jury was concerned about the possibility of a strobe effect that might distract drivers, Berger said that the powder-coat finish on the pipes will have a very soft reflection that shouldn’t catch the eyes of drivers, but that she would be willing to experiment with different finishes to ensure that this would not happen. When it was time for public comments, one woman remarked that, “when [Berger] turned the model, it was magical,” and said that she could see herself “going up there at night just to drive around and around and around…”

Stuart Nakamura – “5 Corners Roundel”
Stuart Nakamura – “5 Corners Roundel”

Nakamura likes to focus his public art on community connection to the local environment. For one of his past pieces in a housing project, he invited the kids to help him with mosaic inlays, and had the parents contribute some of their favorite words of wisdom to be engraved on the base. For a medical center, he took inspiration from the adjacent marsh plants, responsible for cleaning the water and maintaining a healthy ecosystem. For the Five Corners project, Nakamura proposed a five-pointed accent to the landscaped mound with birds swooping out toward each corner. The five pieces of the sculpture will be made out of either galvanized or abraded stainless steel, depending on the size. Nakamura’s model showed the pieces at 11 inches at their lowest point, and 5 feet at their highest, though the jury seemed to want something a bit larger. Nakamura said he would be flexible with the design and making it larger would be entirely possible with the cheaper stainless steel. He will place medallions around the street-level cement barrier celebrating Edmonds’ cultural heritage.

Based on the 30-minute presentations, the jury can choose to recommend one of the sculptures for consideration by City Council, or can reject all three and start the process over again. Whichever of the pieces the committee selects to move forward in the process, I have confidence that it will be a beautiful and functional addition to our town. And I can’t wait until that s***show of an intersection is replaced with the more elegant roundabout!

— By Juliet Brewster

Juliet Brewster
Juliet Brewster

Artfully Edmonds columnist Juliet Brewster, an Edmonds native and Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate, has a degree in literature from Bennington College. To have your arts happening listed, email her at

  1. I attended the meeting as an interested resident, and my vote? Reject all three for the roundabout and start over. I prefer a natural setting with trees, shrubs, flowers which would provide continuity with the sidewalk/curbside theme. In addition it supports the beautiful flower baskets and planting in the downtown corridor. To me all the selections didn’t reflect the natural environmental elements of Edmonds but made me feel it was a contest of who can create a “bigger spectacle” for drivers to endure. I’m a frequent traveler using the Five Corner corridor and evergreen trees, shrubs, flowers would be a relaxing sight after a taxing commute on I-5 etc.
    Council please take time to ponder the consequences of a rushed decision because the Art Commission is designated as the authority on art selections. It’s amazing how ordinary citizens can come up with splendid ideas.

  2. I agree with the above reply from Jane. All three ideas seem far too contrived and frankly, just weird. It doesn’t have to be boring, but these proposals are heading into the lost-in-translation category. I would rather see something more in line with the classic beauty of downtown Edmonds. Less metal, more living things!

  3. Well, my two cents… Based on the three proposals submitted, I prefer the Nakamura design. It projects not only movement, but directional movement with the swooping birds “moving” with the traffic. This design also seems to allow for options in the middle that could address the comments made by Jane and Maureen. Given that one objective is to provide obstruction (blocking the view of cars entering at the other side of the roundabout), it seems that a low maintenance garden, tree, etc. could be situated at the center of this design. Large obstructive trees are typically not allowed at intersection right of ways, so there would be more options here. A natural setting in the center could also reflect the changing seasons.

  4. I agree that we don’t need this at 5 corners. We need civility, patience and generosity (I.e., “I don’t need to go first.”) If the city continues to want to spend money at this location, a natural setting is much better than steel or concrete.

  5. Who decided that we need or require a roundabout at 5 corners. How many buck$ will this cost the local citizens for something that I don’t believe is needed.Just my thoughts.

  6. My previous post was deliberately focused on the 3 artists creations for the Five Corners project. I am opposed to the roundabout. But 2 familiar quotes came to mind — “sometime you can’t fight city hall” and “the writings on the wall.” After closely following months of debate with opposition taking a strong lead all I heard repeatedly was “grant funds were being used with the city contributing a smaller amount. So I decided when it became obvious the roundabout was going to become reality I would become vocal in what I did or didn’t like in the circle.
    My alternate approach would be to use the grant funds to bury utilities, incorporate the existing plans for sidewalks, cross walks, a bench or two near the bus stops with planting pockets similar to those at the downtown fountain. Less money spent, a confusing roundabout is eliminated (sit at Starbucks and watch the drivers confusion navigating around the fountain) and we continue to drive thru the intersection without accidents and enjoy the modest, effective beautiful improvements. I have lived across from the high school for 13 years and NEVER witnessed an accident at Five Corners.
    My final quote — “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!”

  7. The FHWA has a video about modern roundabouts that is mostly accurate ( ).
    Modern roundabouts are the safest form of intersection in the world. Visit for modern roundabout FAQs and safety facts. Modern roundabouts, and the pedestrian refuge islands approaching them, are two of nine proven safety measures identified by the FHWA,
    As to artwork:
    French Video:
    Video 2:
    Topito top 25, France:
    Bend Art drive:
    PixPlot Roundabouts:
    Art in traffic circles, flickr:
    Art in roundabouts, flicker:
    Podcetrtek Traffic Circle located in Slovenia

  8. I pretty much agree with above comments that a natural setting with a few trees as depicted in the original drawings is preferable to these designs.
    And I support the roundabout 100%. This is simple. Ask yourself: If you are in your car about to be hit by another turning vehicle at 25mph… Is it a T-collision (Thier front bumper perpendicular full force into your driver’s side door) or a sideswipe (front ends come together from an acute angle to parallel with each other and sides scrape)? If you chose the latter (sideswipe) you must like roundabouts and long life. If you chose the former, you like “regular” stop-controlled intersections with crossing turn movements and probably need to buy good life and auto insurance. 2nd question, if it had to be upgraded and a stop light was chosen and then you were regularly waiting 2 minutes in the middle of the night with naught another car in sight, would you wish it were a roundabout that you could breeze through – no waiting or stopping?
    Also, grant funds are usually for a specific purpose, whatever you think would be better to spend the money on doesn’t matter because that money is dedicated for a particular thing and if our community doesn’t use it for a roundabout (or intersection improvement – whatever the rules say) then another community will be awarded those funds. We (Edmonds) decide how to use our local money and We (Washington or USA) decide how to use the funds collected by state and national taxes respectively, but We (Edmonds) don’t get to repurpose funds that We (USA) have decided to use for something else in particular. Once dedicated that money will go somewhere for that purpose. When Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio turned down their federal ARRA rail grants they didn’t get to use the money for highways, it got redirected to California and Washington for rail, because that’s what it was appropriated to be spent on. I’m not saying that’s the best way or a good way to fund things, but that’s the way it is.

  9. If the city wants to spend money at 5 Corners, why are they not focusing on the crime that continues in that whole area. I would think that would have been money better spent, as there are many children living in that area. Perhaps spend some money to finally rid that area of those drug houses and other goings on. Perhaps have a bigger police presence, and let the families with children there know that they don’t just live on the other side of the tracks. Edmonds should not have annexed this area if it cannot make and keep it safe. I have a personal interest in this area, and to me, not much has changed in 20+ years there.

  10. It is remarkable how many oppose the 5-corners roundabout in the first place, but the city went ahead and spent the money anyway (and will spend more money doing other things “associated” with the project). The grant excuse is non causa pro causa (false cause) and is unfortunately used all too frequently.

  11. Stupid!!!! If the city were to take a vote, I’m sure a round about would receive a resounding NO VOTE!! Listen up Government !!

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