What would you do with the acid ball on Bellingham’s waterfront?

See the semifinalists for Bellingham's 'acid ball' art projects

Three projects were selected out of 26 submitted plans for what to do with an 'acid ball' from the defunct Georgia Pacific mill on Bellingham's waterfront. The Bellingham Arts Commission is scheduled to review the semifinalists on Dec. 6, 2016, an
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Three projects were selected out of 26 submitted plans for what to do with an 'acid ball' from the defunct Georgia Pacific mill on Bellingham's waterfront. The Bellingham Arts Commission is scheduled to review the semifinalists on Dec. 6, 2016, an

What bright future could be in store for one of the industrial relics on Bellingham’s waterfront?

More than two dozen artists have submitted ideas for transforming the “acid ball,” a metal sphere 30 feet in diameter that was used as a relief system for the nearby digester tanks, where acid broke down wood chips in the pulp-making process at the former pulp and tissue mills.

The city’s One Percent for the Arts program offered about $130,000 to help embellish the circa 1938 ball on the waterfront so it can be placed in a new city park along Whatcom Waterway to be built next year.

The ideas range from simple to strange, from cutting into the ball to capture the night sky as it was the day the mill closed to converting the sphere into a globe that would mimic how the sun is hitting the Earth in real time, to placing panoramic murals on the sides.

A jury of artists, architects, and city staff combed through each proposal, and narrowed their list to three, before picking the top project.

Their recommendation will go to the Bellingham Arts Commission, which will meet at 6 p.m. Dec. 6 in the mayor’s boardroom at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.

“They spent an enormous amount of time sifting through the submissions,” said Darby Cowles, a senior planner with the city.

They focused not only on which project they liked, but also on the qualifications of the team, the organization of their budget, and their ability to pull it all off, Cowles said.

“The jury really struggled actually, but they realized that most (proposals) cut, punctured, altered or changed it from its original form,” Cowles said. “They ended up really appreciating that the piece just as itself is really interesting and intriguing and powerful.”

In the end, the jury opted for a proposal “that honors and enhances that, to make it interesting, but keeps it how it is,” Cowles said.

The recommended proposal was made by Mutuus Studio, a Seattle-based design and concept firm.

Mutuus wants to cover the acid ball in reflective glass beads used to paint traffic lines, which will let the underlying character of the worn metal show, while protecting it from vandalism.

“We want to pay homage to the Acid Ball’s historic industrial past, by using an industrial material coating in a new way,” the Mutuus proposal states. “When we thought of a durable, low maintenance, vandal and weather resistant coating – what could be more appropriate than a coating used for highways and roads?”

They want the reflective coating to make the acid ball a beacon that will interact with sunlight, rain, flashlights and more.

“By using high visibility traffic coatings for the finish we allow the natural patina to shine through while encapsulating the existing contaminants,” the Mutuus proposal states.

The other thing the jury liked about Mutuus’ proposal is that it’s very sturdy and easily maintained, Cowles said.

Other proposals

Aside from the Mutuus proposal, the other two semifinalists were Aaron Loveitt, who hoped to turn the ball into a globe that is also a sundial, and Olson Kundig & Pacific Studio, which hoped to cut into the ball in the pattern of stars on the night the plant closed, and illuminate it from the inside.

Loveitt’s vision calls for putting steel continents and gnomons to tell time like a sundial on the ball, then orienting the globe so its north pole is aligned with the real North Pole, locating Bellingham on top of the globe.

“This means that when sunlight illuminates one portion of the globe at a certain time (say, from Japan to New York), then at that very moment the real Earth is also being illuminated in exactly the same manner,” Loveitt’s proposal states.

Olson Kundig & Pacific Studio wrote in their proposal that the acid ball is “a last remnant of an industrial past that no longer exists and a reflection of the beliefs of a particular time” and in their vision would underscore the difference “between what was then, and what is now.”

“During the daylight hours, visitors will view a constellation of 150 stars (one for each of the 150 years the Bellingham waterfront was used for industry). ... We have calculated the locations for the stars and planets in the night sky on December 21, 2007 – the day the factory closed. The winter solstice in 2007 marked the end of the Acid Ball’s functional life, and the star patterns visible that night are frozen on the interior sphere.”

Aside from the top three picks, dozens of other ideas were submitted, and are included in a document on the city’s website for the project.

There is Actual Size Artworks’ proposal to cover the exterior in a Bellingham panorama, with renderings showing images of Mount Baker and the bay. The same team imagined a gilded acid ball, or decorating it and adding sculpture elements.

Or there is Werner Klotz’ “The Port of the World,” which appears in renderings to be covered with interlocked mirrors, reflecting the surroundings of the park and bay.

Other plans called to cut into the sphere to turn it into a stage, or a giant kaleidoscope, or a place to sit with trees.

Many wanted to decorate the outside, as a globe, as a giant beach ball, or with colorful embellishments circling the outside.


There still is time to weigh in on the decision. Mutuus Studio’s design was recommended for approval by the jury, and the parks board, but the Arts Commission still gets to look the proposals over on Dec. 6.

The commission may be emailed at arts@cob.org beforehand, and people are welcome to come to the meeting to talk in person, Cowles said.

This Port of Bellingham video includes a Fall 2016 update on past and current projects to redevelop Bellingham's downtown waterfront, including the reuse of an acid ball from a former tenant, Georgia-Pacific's pulp and paper mill. The circa 1938 b

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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