The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Advancing a new sustainable infrastructure paradigm and practice in the Northwest and beyond

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Michael Singer Shares his Vision for Integrated, Community-focused Infrastructure Systems

July 14th, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--

By Nancy Rutledge Connery, longtime infrastructure renewal advocate

This Spring, CSI jumped at the opportunity to host groundbreaking artist and designer, Michael Singer at the Olympia Center in East Olympia, where he shared with us his unique aesthetic vision for beautiful, integrated infrastructure systems that provide multiple community benefits to local residents. Thank you Nancy for bringing Michael to Washington and for sharing a bit about his work with the CSI Blog. For more examples of Michael Singer Studios’ infrastructure design work, please follow the links below or visit michaelsinger.com.

I am delighted to introduce Michael Singer to the CSI Community.  Michael’s efforts to advance sustainable infrastructure for more than 25 years have yielded a wealth of real-life examples that illustrate and validate the core mission of the Center.  They are also stunning projects—a term rarely used for things like solid waste facilities, floodwalls, parking structures, and co-generation power plants.

Our paths crossed serendipitously in 1991.  I had recently completed my tenure as executive director of a joint-Presidential/Congressional study on the state of the nation’s public works in Washington, D.C, after completing a related project in the State of Washington, which led to the development of the Public Works Trust Fund.  Michael Singer was an artist based in southern Vermont who had sculptural works in major museums and public art settings throughout the world.  He had just been unceremoniously recruited, along with Dallas-based artist Linnea Glatt, by the City of Phoenix Arts Commission to help design the City’s first solid waste transfer and recycling facility (pictured below)—a task that neither had applied for nor claimed any special knowledge.

Ironically, I was already familiar with this project because I had heard long-time Phoenix Public Works Director Ron Jensen publicly announce in 1989 that he wanted this new facility to be the “…2nd biggest tourist attraction in Phoenix after Camelback Mountain.”  This was a pretty radical statement for a traditional engineer to make but I knew that Ron had to break through stiff local resistance just to get the facility built and even more to convince more than a million Phoenix residents to recycle for the first time in their lives.  He believed in aiming high and was ultimately vindicated.  Michael and Linnea helped him to achieve and vastly exceed his goal, though the process was anything but smooth.  (Ask me for details later, if you’re interested.)

I met Michael in person for the first time at a conference in Phoenix organized by the National Endowment for the Arts where we were both invited to speak before the new transfer station was completed.  Our conversation had actually begun on the telephone a few weeks earlier.  Mainly, he asked tough but really interesting questions I couldn’t answer.

The conversation has continued for 25+ years and I still struggle with his questions, the pace of which has never slowed.  In the meantime, the major focus of Singer’s work has shifted to what he likes to call “Integrative Infrastructure.”  In “Infrastructure and Community,” a publication he produced with Environmental Defense (available at www.michaelsinger.com), he describes it in part this way:

Rather than using a predetermined approach, successful infrastructure aligns facilities with individual settings. Design that is responsive to the habitat and to specific light, wind and water conditions increases efficiency and reduces environmental impact. Design that attends to the needs and interests of local communities cultivates positive relationships between the agencies responsible for utilities and the populations that they serve.

I have personally witnessed many of his projects, written about some of them, and collaborated with his studio on several more. Working with him and his studio has been a dazzling learning opportunity.  To impolitely quote myself from that same document, “…these examples serve as dynamic touchstones for next generation infrastructure design.”

Recycling Facility in Phoenix, Arizona

“Michael Singer and Linnea Glatt were hired as artists by the Phoenix Arts Commission and the Department of Public Works to provide the conceptual design for the 27th Avenue Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center. The project, a 100,000 square foot facility on 25 acres, transformed an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” piece of infrastructure into a dynamic facility that stands out proudly within the city’s landscape. At the forefront of the design was the mission to create an aesthetically beautiful and functional facility that would engage the public to promote recycling while simultaneously creating a sense of communal pride in this critical piece of civic infrastructure”

“Renewal, innovation and transformation were the key concepts behind the re-thinking of the 27th Avenue project. The engineering site plan was re-imagined to improve truck and small vehicle circulation patterns, move the self-haul area closer to the visitor’s center, balance earthwork cut and fill and expand and integrate landscape areas with the main building as terraces and courtyards… The building core where the recycling takes place was fitted with numerous skylights with solar tracking mirrors to optimize daylighting. The facility design also added a multipurpose community room, laboratory, viewing galleries, exhibition spaces and office spaces for private and nonprofit organizations. While the project was once derided as a Taj Mahal of trash, the facility was actually completed for $4.5 million less than the original engineering plan budget.”Excerpt from MichaelSinger.comLearn more about this project.

SWA Waste-to-Energy Facility in Palm Beach County, Florida

This recently-installed facility “…produces electricity from waste, reduces landfilling by over 90%, displaces the need for fossil fuels and powers approximately 44,000 homes. The Studio developed the conceptual aesthetic and environmental design for this new $700M Facility, assisted in establishing design criteria, and was involved in design and implementation oversight throughout the construction process. The SWA and Singer Studio goal was to utilize aesthetic enhancements, environmental design and educational outreach to create a place that engages the public and presents itself as a locus of civic pride and commitment to the environment.”

“The Singer Studio conceptual design included numerous aesthetic, functional, environmental and educational elements and programs that have been incorporated into the built project. Large areas of translucent panels are integrated with the primary facades to naturally light interior spaces and in specific areas allow for views into the facility. A skybridge connects tour groups from the LEED Platinum Visitors Center to the main process building to witness the internal waste-to-energy process. The entire facility is designed as a singular rainwater harvesting system to capture and store two million gallons of rainwater for use within the waste-to-energy process and for site irrigation. This harvesting system, combined with air-cooled condensers and the re-use of wastewater from an adjacent facility, creates one of the most innovative industrial water systems in the nation. As a result the facility uses no potable water in its process and produces zero (or net negative) waste water. The air-pollution controls in this new facility are also the most advanced and the cleanest compared to any similar facility in the nation. Other notable features of the design are the extensive use of green walls, an innovative oval stack to minimize visual impact, a naturalized landscape and advanced stormwater management practices.”Excerpt from MichaelSinger.comLearn more about this project.

Sculptural Flood Wall in Grand Rapids, Michigan

“The City of Grand Rapids invited Michael Singer to propose a public artwork in a site of his choice within the city limits. Singer chose 600 feet of riverbank along the Grand River between the Blue Footbridge and the Fulton Street Bridge where he observed severe erosion of the river bank… With the aid of city staff and his team engineers, Singer was able to realize a sculptural environmental regeneration project that restores the river’s edge in a manner that creates habitat and engages the public, while simultaneously meeting the necessary engineering requirements of a flood wall. The 300 foot layered sculptural element is comprised of granite, concrete and pockets of soil and vegetation. The sculptural wall functions as a flood wall while softening the river’s edge with native vegetation and creating small niches that shelter birds and other wildlife living along the river. The sculptural wall is reminiscent of stone foundations from an earlier time, emerging through the steep side of the riverbank. The indigenous plantings as well as the patina of the stone encourage associations with the past. The project also includes a fully accessible walkway to the river’s edge to connect the public to this natural and historic place central to Grand Rapids. The Riverwalk Floodwall became a key precedent for further redevelopment of the river’s edge and riverfront walkways in downtown Grand Rapids.” – Excerpt from MichaelSinger.com Learn more about this project.

Cogeneration Power Facility Design for NY

“Trans Gas Energy (TGE) asked Michael Singer to work with Stephan Solzhenitsyn of TRC Environmental Corp. on the early stage planning of a new cogeneration gas fired power facility in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The plant was engineered to use natural gas to generate 1,100MW of electricity and up to 2 million pounds per hour of steam; about 10% of New York City’s peak steam and electric energy needs. Singer began his process by bringing together a team of outstanding professionals in design, planning, science and engineering. The Singer Team goal was to bring the state-of-the-art engineering design found inside the power plant to the architectural structure and exterior site. The team investigation centered on the question: can there by a close relationship between a power plant and its surrounding community and a communion between functional needs and environment, natural systems and innovative design?”

“One of the primary concepts is to wrap the main power plant building exterior walls in green houses, taking advantage of these highly structured walls, natural light, CO2, waste heat, and harvested rooftop rainwater already inherent in the project. These greenhouses could grow local food, wetland plants for nearby restoration projects and even host alternative uses such as a community heated indoor swimming pool and hot yoga classes. One associated concept was to utilize some of the greenhouses for algae biofuel research that could also tap a portion of the facility CO2 output. The facility was also planned with an extensive naturalized green roof for avian wildlife and rainwater collection.” – Excerpt from MichaelSinger.comLearn more about this project.

For more innovative examples of integrated infrastructure design, such as the Studio’s Living Shoreline Seawall Renewal and Living Docks projects, or to view Michael’s sculptural gardens, fine art, or green building designs, visit MichaelSinger.com.

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