Art museum beautifies runoff

Purely functional pond is gussied up with trees, undulating grasses

Staff WriterOctober 7, 2010 

— Leave it to the N.C. Museum of Art to take a murky stormwater retention pond and turn it into a piece of art.

The pond sits at the bottom of a hill behind the museum's old building and catches rainwater and pollutants that wash down with it.

Usually, such ponds are not much to look at - a few big drains that sit above a pool of water dense with the nasty stuff that washes off parking lots. But the pond at the art museum, after three years of creation and design, is an interpretive oasis.

Skinny Bald Cypress trees that will eventually get "knees" are planted in the water. The pond is surrounded by undulating, grassy terraces that look like a wave about to crash onto shore.

Designers "stretched" the pond to the terraces, filling them with natural grasses and earth-colored drains that are meant to showcase water flow.

The pond's design is meant to be aesthetic, like the museum itself, but it's also functional, said Larry Wheeler, museum director.

The runoff water is filtered through porous soils and wetland plants that remove pollutants and reduce runoff from the museum. Officials hope the design will help teach people about stormwater runoff, a top polluter of creeks and streams.

"We thought the little pond back there - which feeds the creeks and streams that flow into the Falls Lake, one of the dirtiest lakes in the country - should show our responsibility to clean up stormwater," Wheeler said.

The project was mostly funded by the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund and designed by Steven Blake of Denver-based Artifex environmental designers and Walter Havener of Lappas + Havener landscape architects of Durham.

"The museum undertook this project to protect their neighbors from flooding with all the extra parking lots," Havener said.

On Wednesday, the pond glistened in the afternoon sun while the wind created small ripples on the surface. Several walkers spent their lunch hour on the museum's one-mile loop trail, which takes pedestrians around the pond.

Most probably will never know it's a stormwater runoff basin. Instead, it will likely be a place where lovers kiss and poems and sonnets are written.

leah.friedman@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4546

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