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Feb. 22, 2020

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Putting public art in its place in Vancouver

Crews install ‘Bubbles’ outside Uptown’s new apartment building

By , Columbian Arts & Features Reporter
Published:
6 Photos
Builder Dave Frei, left, and designer Jennifer Corio, the husband-and-wife team known as Colbalt Designworks, consider the placement of their metal sculpture “Bubbles” on the Washington Street sidewalk outside The Uptown Apartments, which is shortly to open to tenants.  (Ariane Kunze/ The Columbian)
Builder Dave Frei, left, and designer Jennifer Corio, the husband-and-wife team known as Colbalt Designworks, consider the placement of their metal sculpture “Bubbles” on the Washington Street sidewalk outside The Uptown Apartments, which is shortly to open to tenants. (Ariane Kunze/ The Columbian) Photo Gallery

On a chilly, gray Vancouver morning, the disk of powder-blue bubbles looked “just beautiful” from any angle, according to designer Jennifer Corio.

Nonetheless Corio, her husband Dave Frei and a group of workers from Robertson and Olson Construction spent some time carefully considering which way to tilt “Bubbles” on the wavy, artsy new Washington Street sidewalk behind the upscale new Uptown Apartments in Uptown Village. The building is expected to open to its first tenants within weeks.

So designer Corio and builder Frei — the husband-and-wife team that’s grown busy in recent years creating public art in Vancouver and elsewhere as Cobalt Designworks — were on the scene Friday morning as a crew lowered “Bubbles” onto the sidewalk.

Before creating a pad and bolting it into place, the group evaluated how to keep the sculpture from interfering with people emerging from parked cars — while also grabbing the attention of pedestrians. Since the building and the sidewalk are new and the street has only recently been restriped from one-way to two-way, they acknowledged, it’s hard to know what pedestrian traffic patterns will be like once the 167-unit place is full of people.

“It’s always cool when private developers have the vision, and money, to add public art to their new properties,” Corio said. When art is taxpayer funded, she said, there’s an inevitable backlash from a sliver of commentators. (If the backlash goes so far as tagging, Frei added, the finish of “Bubbles” allows for quick, easy cleaning. But, he said, nothing by Cobalt Designworks has ever been tagged. Bumped and dented, yes, but never spray-painted. “Knock on wood,” he added.)

David Copenhaver, the president of Cascadia Development Partners, said the stylish building will also feature lots of interior art by local artists Lijah Henley and Rachel Wolf.

Color and fun

Corio said she glimpsed an abstract sculpture in Canada that was “a lot of circles” and got a hankering to design something similar; conveniently, the invitation to create sidewalk art for The Uptown Apartments came not long after from Cascadia Development Partners. Cascadia’s only requirements, Corio said, were color and playfulness on “a pedestrian scale.”

Corio presented four different designs, and “Bubbles” was the winner. Frei said laser-cutting and welding the steel “Bubbles” took him about 80 hours of construction time. That’s a pretty simple, quick job compared to many, he said, that can take hundreds of hours. “Bubbles” is about 5 1/2 feet wide and weighs 400 pounds, Frei said.

Is it a window into a washing machine? Or a mass of molecules?

“I’m just playing with pure abstraction,” Corio said.

Pat McClean, director of major projects for Robertson and Olson, quipped: “I’m pretty sure it’s upside down.”

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