Alluvial Decoder

Artist: A Gang of Three
Location: Raleigh, NC, USA
Year: 2022
Researcher: Jen Krava

Alluvial Decoder is a site-specific intervention along the City of Raleigh’s greenway on the banks of Crabtree Creek. While historically the site was primarily encountered along the greenway path, the design makes the site visible and accessible to a much wider audience by bringing awareness of the floodplain to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic through the use of groves of color-coded pylons that mark historic flood heights. Graphic elements used in the underpass decode the markers that visitors encounter, while reinstituted native meadow landscape elements create natural riparian zones along a bank adjacent to the trail. These interventions not only help with stormwater management but also create critical educational moments that speak to the importance of natural systems and the site’s history.

The project is intended to (and does) flood regularly. Through our use of flood markers, the "decoder" data tool and the native meadow, we are not only able to best tell the story of the site but also greatly promote biodiversity though increased habitat, improve stormwater resiliency, promote thoughtful development and create ecological awareness among site visitors and the city overall.

Throughout our professional lives - as artists and in our roles and architects, landscape architects and designers, we have always endeavored to do more with less and appreciate working within constraints. We looked at the overall budget ($35K originally, $50K after the city decided to expand the scope) and site size (2 acres) as an opportunity to create a truly immersive experience, not simply an object to be viewed. Through this approach we were better able to tell the story of storms past, those yet to come, and the lives that have been affected as a result.

It is our profound hope that this work helps to call attention to critical issues such as climate change, climate justice, urban ecology and the perils and pitfalls of irresponsible development, ultimately allowing us a better chance at enabling others to see these broad issues in a new light firsthand and help them to become the fierce advocates our cities and world needs.

Since completion Alluvial Decoder has generated renewed interest along this section of the greenway, raised awareness of flooding and stormwater issues, reduced stormwater runoff (due to the meadow), improved biodiversity, and invited long overdue conversations about how we develop near waterways - all while becoming a destination for visitors seeking out the project purely for arts sake.

We did not take any artist or design fee on this as 100% of the funds went into making the project the best that it could possibly be.

Photo credits: © Keith Isaacs Photo

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The original public project RFQ (funded by the City of Raleigh Stormwater department) called for a floodplain/flooding “educational” display along Raleigh, NC’s Crabtree Creek greenway trail. The work was required to be permanent, with minimal needed maintenance, and able to resist the impacts of flooding. The rest was completely open ended. The site itself was nearly two acres, and the budget was minimal ($35K originally, $50K after the city decided to expand the scope). Considering that two of our three partners are from Raleigh and were deeply familiar with the area and the site’s severe flooding issues as well as their resulting tragedies (one of William’s friends sadly drowned in the Crabtree Creek floodwaters resulting from Hurricane Fran in 1996 and both Lincoln and William knew people who had been permanently displaced due to the constant flooding issues), we were ideally suited to pursue the project. The selection was done through the use of a remote Zoom interview in November of 2020. The panel consisted of various citizens, stormwater experts, and City of Raleigh personnel. Ultimately we were chosen due to our knowledge of the site and our initial ideas to maximize the scale and visual impact, while also improving both resiliency and biodiversity, and our ability to openly embrace the inevitable flooding as a key part of the project itself, all on an extremely limited budget (as compared to its size).

"Alluvial Decoder is an excellent example of how public art can be created to educate and invite conversation surrounding critical issues. Investing in artists to create a visual storytelling experience is one of the best ways cities can communicate a message and meaningfully engage our communities. The impact of an immersive experience in particular is much greater than simply printing a sign or telling a story. As an artwork, Alluvial Decoder was designed with careful attention to concept, aesthetics, and the history surrounding the site - all while being executed on an extraordinarily tight budget and with significant site constraints." Kelly McChesney, Public Art Director, Raleigh Arts

“Through the Alluvial Decoder project, the artists have invited the curious to seek an understanding of Raleigh’s flooding history, and through this journey participate in conversations surrounding the environmental and public safety benefits of critical issues such as floodplain management and ecologically sensitive development.” Wayne Miles, Raleigh Stormwater

Alluvial Decoder elegantly educates participants about the city of Raleigh’s floodplain while also providing a visceral understanding of the flood heights of various storms in a thoughtful, tactile and artful way. The installation is not only a beautiful piece of public art, it is also deeply educational and allows viewers to walk away with a much greater understanding of the impact of storms and development upon our watershed.” Jenn Hales, Public Art Curator, Raleigh Arts.

A Gang of Three is an award-winning multidisciplinary public art and planning practice based in the United States.

With a shared ethos and desire to better humanity through art and design, we focus on research-based, community-engaged, site-specific placemaking and public art projects that embrace their own unique living history through landscape, planning, mixed media, and performance. Often taking a curatorial approach, we are ever mindful of both the human experience and the true power of dynamic and intentional public space.Ultimately, we seek to create meaningful experiences, not objects.

To view the Gang of Three website, click here.

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