Arts

Chinatown’s new art nears completion

You’re going to be walking over it for the next few years, but you’ve only got a couple more nights to watch the art being installed in the pedestrian crosswalk. We wrote about the beginning of the project earlier, and it’s even more exciting to see the last stages of it transform the intersection at 7th and H St. by the Chinatown arch.

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Charles Bergen, the artist who won the commission from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, was there last night and told me about some of his concepts and challenges for the project. He’d done a lot of research about what would resonate the most with the life of the community, and settled on the dragons from the New Year’s celebration, and the zodiac signs in the crosswalk (he writes that the zodiac signs “forever reenact the race across the wild river,” which is very appropriate for a busy crosswalk that sees 27,000 pedestrians per day among the heavy traffic).

One of his challenges was the placement of the design. He’d thought about putting the dragons on the side crosswalks but DDOT required that the broad white crosswalk stripes remain intact. He then figured out that the zodiac animals would be a perfect fit, since there are twelve gaps between the white stripes on two of the crosswalks, and fourteen gaps on the others (on those sides, he’s leaving a blank space by the curb). Here’s how it is being lined up:

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Another challenge was the choice of materials. Bergen had originally conceived of doing it all in paint, but had to reject that idea because it would not have been durable enough for the side crosswalks. So he’s using preformed thermoplastic pieces for the zodiac signs.

The installation is being done by Alternative Paving Concepts / Driveway Impressions.
They have to work both carefully and fast enough to finish the work during the hours of the permitted partial street closures.
The area is first cleaned:

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Adhesive is applied:

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The individual pre-fabricated pieces are carried into place:

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They are set down carefully, and then measured for a perfect alignment:

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The pieces are carefully tamped in and the gaps are sealed.

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There’s a final stage of rolling and sealing the pieces that happens later at night, but I couldn’t stay late enough to see that part.

Weather dependent, there is a good chance of seeing the installation in process either tonight, or Sunday night, and probably Monday and Tuesday nights. The work starts at 8:30, and extends into the night. For any update in the installation schedule, it’s likely to be posted on Bergen’s Facebook page. And you may have the good fortune to spot him and ask questions about the work.
Plans are set to maintain the crosswalk art for at least the next three years, and hopefully we get to enjoy it for many more crossings after that.

I'm a D.C. native, but have only been taking photos for about five years. Even in that time, I've seen so many changes in D.C., and am increasingly interested in photographing the things in D.C. that are temporary or may be demolished, and the people who interact with the city. When I'm not out photographing, I'm a web developer.