Tristan Al-Haddad cannot stand still while showing off the sinuous, fin-like curves of his latest public art installation — a nearly jet-black, polished, monolithic concrete sculpture called Stealth.
But when asked if the 33-foot-tall monolith fronting 1230 Peachtree Street (an office tower actually on 15th Street), is a metaphor for anything, he stops dead in his tracks.
“Absolutely not,” says the Georgia Tech architecture professor. “It’s really about an experiential condition. It’s about the body’s existence in space, and how it makes you feel.”
And with that, Al-Haddad is back in motion.
First, he zips over to the north side of 15th Street to demonstrate how Stealth looks like a flattened rectangle from the perspective of the Woodruff Arts Center’s Rich Plaza. He then walks about 50 yards east to show how the same structure becomes a hexagon from the vantage point of Peachtree Street.
But once he darts back across 15th Street and enters what he call its “urban portal” — the sculpture shape-shifts yet again as two pure geometric figures (the rectangle and the hexagon) reveal themselves to be a single, unbroken, interlocking band.
Al-Haddad says he chose the title Stealth “to evoke that which is crafty and transforms in a subtle way,” and the voluptuous, volumetric and zoomorphic piece certainly earns its name.
Commissioned by Cousins Properties as a way to transform and enliven the nondescript stretch of 15th Street between Peachtree and West Peachtree streets, the sculpture will double as seating: The base, designed as benches, is intended to invite pedestrians to use the plaza as a place to meet, relax and eat lunch.
Focal points like Stealth, reasons Al-Haddad, “can make cities better by making them more livable, and encouraging more interactions and activity between people on the street.”
He’s equally hopeful that the piece might encourage introspection as passersby pause and look up to see the sky framed through the sculpture’s hollow core. “If art can do anything, it can slow you down for a minute, make you change your position or change the way you look at something. That’s what my work is all about.”
Although 15th-century European perspectival and illusory games inspired his vision of the sculpture, building it, according to engineer James Case, was a “monumental, technology-driven task.”
“I have never seen anything as daring and unusual as this reinforced concrete structure without a steel skeleton,” says the senior principal at Uzun+Case, who worked with Al-Haddad to close the gap between concept and physical reality.
Also worthy of note, says Case, are the work’s “aesthetic ironies:” solidity versus openness of form; the concrete hardness of its skin, softened by a human touch (as evidenced by irregularities and form marks); and the thin (7”) exterior of its blades contrasted with its thick (14”) interior.
Finding the right material to cast Stealth’s thin, pliant, cantilevered form was another challenge. Al-Haddad and Jason Adams, owner of Sinclair Construction Group, Inc., worked with chemists from Thomas Concrete Group for two years before settling on a special mix that was both high-strength and able to flow and compact well. Sand for the concrete was a coarse aggregate of blue-black Adairsville granite quarried in North Georgia. Iron oxide and carbon pigments were used to deepen the black, which will change as the concrete weathers.
“I’ve collaborated with 50 to 75 architects on …large-scale commercial construction since 2008,” observes Adams. “Most will draw something really great, then just throw it in the contractor’s lap and say, ‘Okay… now build it.’ Tristan is the only architect I have ever met in my career who wanted to be a part of every process. His deep understanding of materials and construction is really exceptional.”
This involvement was also evident during construction. Workers who assembled, sanded and polished Stealth cited Al-Haddad’s willingness to get up on the scaffolding, provide whatever materials and resources are necessary and make sure his crew stays hydrated in the heat.
“Tristan really gets how to work with people and has the confidence of the entire team… which is incredibly important,” says Katherine Molyson, Cousins’ vice president of development and the driving force behind the project.
Said one construction worker, “We don’t want this project to end because we are having so much fun!”
Al-Haddad hopes Atlantans will feel the same way about Stealth, but he’s especially eager to see how children will respond to the piece. “Kids have an amazing ability to just experience something without regard for deep meaning, cross-references, intellectualizing or metaphors,” he observes.
“They are not as tainted as adults. It’s about feeling the piece rather than thinking the piece. And, in my mind, that’s a thousandfold better than any metaphor.”