What do you do with a rusted, 200-ton sphere – 30 feet in diameter, with a circumference of 94 feet – languishing in an aging, waterfront industrial park?
If you’re the City of Bellingham, Wash., you put out an international RFP and ask the design community for suggestions.
If you’re Seattle-based Mutuus Studio, you propose coating it in miniscule glass beads, moving it 1,000 feet to the water’s edge – and transforming it into a work of art.
And that’s precisely what they did with the steel-plated, concrete-lined object known and loved by locals as the “Acid Ball.”
It once was part of a paper mill, built in 1930. “It was an acid accumulator – it was part of the process of breaking down small wood timbers to grind up in a chipper, to make wood chips,” says Saul Becker, partner in the architecture firm. “Acid was added to make wood pulp and then to make paper.”
The new exterior coating for the “Acid Ball” is similar to that of a cinema screen, so it’s reflective during the day and at night. Mutuus worked with a lighting designer so it can change colors and patterns for different occasions. “We gave the city a project that is flexible and can grow with them, rather than be static – and we did a lot with very few moves,” he says. “We moved it, removed its lead paint and coated it. No one had ever coated a ball like this.”
After it was mounted on five-feet-tall, steel I-beams, a company called Oxbow moved the “Acid Ball” down to the waterfront on a 16-wheel, flatbed truck, via remote control. Steel plates were laid in its path as it rolled along the ground.
Now it boasts all-around visual access, on land and sea.
“We moved it to pay attention to the urban design corridors and the walkways to City Hall – so you can see it in the distance, framed in the horizon,” says Jim Friesz, also a partner in the firm. “And it’s in a maritime area so you can see it from the water.”
The best time to look at Bellingham’s newest landmark in the landscape? Some say at night, flashlight strapped to hat. “It’s highly reflective, like a moon,” says Becker.
It’s also an icon chock-full of meaning for Bellingham’s new Waypoint Park – a place that’s authentic and hardworking, with strong industrial roots.
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