Launch Slideshow

Boston's Greenway Ice Chimes Project

Boston's Greenway Ice Chimes Project

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Ice Chimes, a 20-foot-tall installation, is the latest of a series of urban interventions designed by architects Keith Moskow, FAIA, and Robert Linn. The kinetic sculpture is being constructed at a heavily trafficked spot along Boston’s pedestrian Greenway. Moskow and Linn were approached by an administrator from the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy about coming up with a way to make the Greenway more attractive in the winter when it becomes “a frozen wasteland,” chuckles Moskow. Like the other interventions created by the pair, Ice Chimes takes an aspect of the urban landscape that’s considered undesirable—in this case ice—and transforms it into something beautiful and useful.

Moskow and Linn recently spoke to residential architect’s Shelley D. Hutchins about their inspiration for Ice Chimes, how it works, and how enthusiastic everyone involved is about the project.

What inspired you to create Ice Chimes?

Moskow: Two summers ago I was walking across the Greenway—our office is located about 30 yards away from it—and I ran into someone who works for the Greenway Conservancy. We began talking and she asked if we’d do a project to show how the Greenway could be used in the winter. It’s become this vital space during warmer months, but in the winter it’s a frozen wasteland. We’d already been thinking about an urban intervention for cold months, so we started tossing around ideas.

Linn: I don’t remember exact progression, but often our projects look at things in the city that are viewed as a liability and we try to bring the beautiful elements of those perceived eyesores to the forefront. For example, we took an old abandoned dry dock and made it into a soccer field. When the smoking ban went into effect, we created an outdoor smoking kiosk called the urban hookah. Generally ice is considered dangerous in Boston and everyone is wary of it. But the ice-coated trees sparkling in the sun is a gorgeous thing, and that was the genesis for the chime.

How did you design for a 20-foot-tall set of icicle chimes?

Moskow: We were thinking about how we could do it. The idea of using roof heating coils that are used to prevent ice from forming to create ice intrigued us. We started talking to different people about the components and were surprised at how excited everyone was to help. In fact, we were at BuildBoston last year and ran into these local builders (Payne|Bouchier Fine Builders) who do great work but nothing like this, and they got on board and are really into the project. We’re using an engineer we’ve used before and they are doing it all pro bono. They helped us figure out how to anchor it to the ground by using construction plates so we don’t have to install a permanent foundation, but the chimes won’t blow over. Then we did a mock-up and asked to borrow a cold storage room to test it out. Millbrook Cold Storage lent us a space. They even built a lighting system in the room to re-create the ambiance of outdoor space.

Linn: This collaboration really speaks of the elemental quality of bringing forward the beauty of the ice. Everybody gets the idea of making icicles and there’s this visceral desire to hear the sound of an icicle crashing down or the noise they make swinging into each other. This very large canopy collects precipitation and forms icicles to coat the metal chimes. Then we have a collection bucket made from sheet metal where the icicles can crash and the metal amplifies the sound and causes reverberations. It becomes this constantly changing sculpture with icicles growing and falling and growing again.

How does Ice Chimes work?

Moskow: We borrowed two standard 8-foot construction plates that weigh 10,000 pounds each. They float on top of the soil just sitting right on the ground. We placed two of them about a month before we started building so they’d settle.

Linn: Even the crane operator got into the project and kept repositioning the plates until they were at exactly the best spots. They aren’t absolutely flat, so we designed feet to anchor the steel uprights. Four posts support the 16-foot-by-16-foot canopy and are bolted to the plates. The canopy has 45 holes and 35 rods so ice can come through in a variety of places and create an assortment of forms. A 2.6-foot-diameter column in the center has a translucent skin with lighting inside so it acts as an oversized lantern.

Moskow: To encourage the icicle formation we used heating coils normally used on roofs. In New England, homes that don’t have good insulation use heating coils on the roof to melt snow and prevent ice dams. We used one of those systems to create our melting pattern. The canopy collects precipitation and the coils melt everything so the water hits the metal rods and refreezes. We’re actually using a system that normally prevents icicle formation to create them. Now we just need the precipitation and cold weather.

How will the installation attract people to the Greenway?

Moskow: It’s a kinetic structure, but it’s not one of those things that you can walk up to and see change immediately. (Linn: That would be like trying to watch grass grow!) Right, but it’s in a location people will walk past day to day or even at different times of the day, and they’ll see it transform. It’s also near where the commuter ferries embark, so lots of people will see it change every day and it’ll look one way when they go to work and have completely different formations when they’re on their way home. People will make repeated detours during their day to check on the chimes and see what’s happening.

Linn: We were describing our concept of the magical way ice forms on the trees and how dangling icicles sound clinking and chiming to our engineer and he said, “Of course, you know the Robert Frost poem ‘Birches’ right?” We didn’t, but we checked it out and it is the ideal description for what we’re doing with Ice Chimes. Now we’re using a segment of it to describe Ice Chimes. People really get what we’re doing, and I think they’ll make an effort to visit it.

What will happen to Ice Chimes after it’s taken down next spring?

Moskow: We had actually talked to a couple of museums about making the piece and in-kind donation, but the Greenway has already asked to have it stored and reassembled again next winter. That’s how strong the positive reaction has been to this thing that isn’t even on display yet—the Greenway already wants it back.