There will be a new creative space at the East Lansing Art Festival this year! On May 19-20, 2018, with the American Institute of Architects Mid-Michigan Chapter, we will be unveiling a placemaking installation that celebrates architectural and landscape architectural design. We have teamed up with three local architects to develop a structure that can be uniquely experienced through the sense of smell.
Scent is a unique sensory experience in that it is usually unseen. That’s why a scent often surprises us! It moves fluidly through a room in whatever direction the air currents take it. Which means that a scent can vanish just as quickly as it came. We’ve embodied a scent’s ephemeral nature in this artwork to celebrate the impact that scent has on all of our lives, both indoors and out.
Sensory is an installation that combines structure and scent to transform an ordinary street intersection into a creative experience. From the exterior, the installation is a series of post and beam structures increasing in uniform scale. Sited to be experienced in the round, asymmetry provides a unique view from every side, with no two views alike. Once inside, visitors experience a gradient of fragrant vegetation with the most concentrated fragrance inside the smallest structure. As one walks toward the largest structure, the scent dissipates just like a drifting waft of fragrance. An integrated bench provides a place of respite and contemplation. Mobile cube benches, extensions of the stationary structure, allow visitors to create their own arrangements and personalize this pop-up space.
Path to a Placemaking Installation
The process of creating this placemaking installation has been 8 months in the making. We began sketching ideas of what we could do with a 10’ x 20’ space back in October. From the outset, we wanted to make the space fragrant, so we were brainstorming ways that fragrant plants could be integrated into the structure.
After we landed on the concept of four post and beam archways, we intended to incorporate plants into each of the posts of the archways. This seems simple enough when you say it, but plants don’t naturally grow horizontally out of a vertical structure. It was time to get creative!
Plants and Fragrance
First, we selected a plant palette that would achieve noticeable fragrance from afar. Stargazer Asiatic Lilies were our first plant selection. When I think of fragrant plants, these rank right up there with lilacs. When you get a whiff of one, it is cause to look around in search of the plant (which could turn out to be several yards away)!
Because we wanted to create a gradient of scents, we next selected plants that are fragrant, but not as over-the-top as the lilies. Herbs with leaves that emit aromas, especially when touched, were the winners – Lemon balm, Citronella geranium, and two types of Lavender will be incorporated into the structure.
But none of this would be possible without a great plant nursery who is willing to grow plants on our schedule and in an unconventional way! Moose and Squirrel Horticultural Resources are growing beautiful plants for us! The herbs will be in grow bags/flower pouches that are normally reserved only for annuals like impatiens. A big high five from me to Lee and Colleen at Moose and Squirrel for being willing to think outside the box for us on this project!
Bringing It All Together
This week was the moment of truth. Our team met at Donny Joppie’s barn (contractor/craftsman) to see the progress of the structure. Spoiler alert: it looks A-MA-ZING! It is really something to see what was once a sketch become a real, palpable space!
We brought samples of the plants along with us to determine where the support dowels need to be placed within the structure to hold the lily pots and the herb pouches. As with most things in life, it took a team to hold the plants in place, take measurements and stand back to make sure it looks right.
And coming up in one week, we will see it built as a placemaking installation for the community to experience and enjoy!
Check It Out!
The installation will be at the intersection of Charles St. and Albert Ave. in East Lansing for one weekend only – during the Art Festival. Jonathan and I will be at the structure from 10am – 2pm on Saturday, May 19. We would love to see you if you can stop by while we’re there!
A special thanks and congratulations to our fellow Sensory teammates: