Mutuus Studio converts industrial artifact into Acid Ball installation in Washington park

A large, steel sphere sourced from a shuttered paper mill has been repurposed by Seattle firm Mutuus Studio as an installation in a waterfront park in the Pacific Northwest.

The Waypoint installation, locally known as Acid Ball, is located in the new Wayfront Park, which stretches along a revitalised waterfront in Bellingham – a coastal city in northern Washington. The 33-acre (13-hectare) park encompasses grassy areas, pathways, seating and a pedestrian pier.

Waypoint in Washington state by Mutuus Studio

The project entailed transforming a large piece of equipment from a shuttered Georgia Pacific pulp-and-paper mill. The round structure, which has thick steel walls and an interior concrete liner, was formerly part of system that used acid to break down wood chips. It dates back to 1938.

Waypoint in Washington state by Mutuus Studio

The metal sphere is approximately 30 feet (nine metres) in diameter and weighs over 400,000 pounds (179 imperial tonnes). It rises to a height of 35 feet (11 metres). The structure has long been a “powerfully authentic artifact, connecting the community to Bellingham’s mighty industrial past”, said Mutuus Studio in a project description.

“There’s a real desire to understand these objects and carry them into the future so that people can understand not just an industry but the movement of time itself,” firm partner Saul Becker added.

The monument’s official name, Waypoint, is a reference to the structure’s ongoing life – a “stopping place on a journey”.

While designing the permanent installation, the team prioritised retaining the shape of the structure and its industrial character. Early concepts that involved significant changes were quickly discarded.

Waypoint in Washington state by Mutuus Studio

The team settled on what it calls a “macro” move at the urban scale, and a “micro” move at an elemental level. The macro strategy involved moving the structure 1,000 feet (305 metres) from its original location and placing it on the water’s edge, in line with a nearby courthouse.

Waypoint in Washington state by Mutuus Studio

“At a macro scale, by repositioning the ball to the water’s edge, it becomes a beacon from land and water and a visual terminus to the existing axis of the courthouse stair,” the team said.

The micro element is the unique coating used to protect the structure. The team searched for a durable, low-maintenance material that would be resistant to vandalism and inclement weather. It ultimately chose a reflective, glass-bead coating used on highways.

Waypoint in Washington state by Mutuus Studio

“We were continually surprised by experiments with this humble material and mesmerised by the way the light bounced and interacted with the environment around it,” the team said, noting that the coating has given the structure a captivating quality.

“From a flashlight to headlights of a passing car, from a sunbeam to a waning moon, Waypoint harnesses the light around the City of Bellingham and changes through every season, throughout the day and night,” it continued.

Known for its focus on art and architecture, Mutuus Studio won the Waypoint commission through an international competition, which called for schemes to repurpose the Acid Ball. The installation was funded by the city’s One Percent for Art programme, which requires that one per cent of budgets for large, capital projects be dedicated to incorporating artwork.

Waypoint in Washington state by Mutuus Studio

“The Acid Ball is particularly exciting because it utilises a phenomenal piece of industrial equipment in a new and interesting way, providing a unique landmark for Waypoint Park that honours the history of the site,” said Darby Cowles, a senior planner with the City of Bellingham.

Other projects involving revitalised waterfronts include a six-acre park by James Corner Field Operations at the former Domino Sugar Factory site in Brooklyn. The park features an industrial-style playground, a taco stand and a sunbathing area.

Photography is by Benjamin Benschneider.

Project credits:

Artist/architect: Mutuus Studio
Design team: Saul Becker, project artist; Kristen Becker; project manager; Jim Friesz, project architect
Client: City of Bellingham
Contractor: Strider Construction
Structural design: Lund Opsahl
Lightning designer: Gantom Lighting
Metal cross bracing fabricator and installers: Architectural Elements
Coating/painting specialists: Purcell Painting
Moving: Oxbo Mega Transport Solutions
Waypoint Park project team: Walker Macy, landscape design; KPFF, structural designer; Elcon Associates, electrical engineer; Coastal Geologic Service, civil engineer

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