Aug 8, 2006

Adobe’s `Semaphore’ takes public art to new heights


Source: The Mercury News
Written by Katherine Conrad

When cities compel developers to set aside money for public art, it’s one of those for-the-greater-good regulations that encounters little if any resistance from the corporate world.

Barbara Goldstein, San Jose’s director of public art, knows why.

“Most developers learn that when they spend money on art for their building, it adds value to the buildings,” she said. “We haven’t found that people balk at paying the fee. It’s part of the cost of doing business.”

Plus, they know exactly how it’s spent.

Since 1984, San Jose has required developers that partner with the city’s redevelopment agency to set aside up to 1 percent of their construction costs for public art.

The program has given the city “Figure Holding the Sun” in front of the San Jose Museum of Art, “Big Flowers” near Adobe Systems, “Parade of Floats” near City Hall and — the piece everyone loves to hate — “Quetzalcoatl,” the plumed serpent, in Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Love them or hate them, the pieces make the city much more visually interesting, Goldstein said.

Even developer John Sobrato, who built the 17-story office tower on Almaden Boulevard, commissioned a piece by glass artist Dale Chihuly, a blue chandelier hanging in the lobby, though he was not required to because the office building did not receive redevelopment financing.

“That’s an example that people do it anyway,” Goldstein said. “It adds value.”

Now comes “San Jose Semaphore,” designed to take public art in the city to the next level — both literally and figuratively. Semaphore, installed on the top floor of the Adobe Systems Almaden Tower, not only compels the public to look up, but the art project itself is a puzzle.

The four amber discs, measuring 10 feet across, will move to their own beat and send a message in code that could take months or years to decipher. When a plane flies overhead, as they will many times a day, the discs will twirl.

“This piece of art is another great way to establish a skyline and personality of the city,” said Melissa Dyrdahl, Adobe’s senior vice president of marketing.

When it comes to art, Adobe has been a model corporate citizen. The software maker has played it safe with street-level sculptures “Big Flowers” and “Horizon.” But Semaphore puts Adobe in a whole new public art realm and could pressure others to look up.

Because downtown is in the flight path of nearby Mineta San Jose International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration rules prevent skyscrapers from going too high.

So jazzing up the skyline appealed to Adobe, one of downtown’s largest employers — plus the company was running out of space to put another piece on the ground.

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Audio clues will be available at Adobe’s Semaphore Web site,
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