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This project was approved by the Austin City Council through the City’s Artwork Donation and Loan process managed by the Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, Cultural Arts Division. Women & Their Work, in collaboration with the participating artists, incorporated feedback from the Austin Rowing Club, the Trail Foundation, the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department, the City of Austin Planning and Development Review Department, the City of Austin Park Ranger Program, the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department, the City of Austin Arborist Program, the City of Austin Urban Forestry Program, Environmental Review and Land Use Review staff, Austin Energy, the City of Austin Public Works Department, the City of Austin Sustainability Department, the Austin Parks Foundation, the Austin Arts Commission, the Austin Police Department, Downtown Austin Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, and Austin City Council, as well as local neighborhood associations, to create and install this work.
The dying tree was taken from private property. It was scheduled for removal and would have ended up in the landfill if it were not part of this project.
The THIRST team studied other possible materials for the construction of the tree. Given the three-month duration of the installation and the desire for a realistic tree, the only viable material that could be considered was steel. This solution was not viable due to the extreme weight of the material and the excessive cost of this solution. It was determined that the potential damage done by a steel element of this size far exceeded any concern over a real tree.
It was not. Paint used for the tree and roots was DuraSoy Bio-Based Paint, a renewable resource material with recycled content. It contained no volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.) and was low odor, with no exempt solvents, and no hazardous ingredients. It had superior bonding, hiding, and scrub resistance.
It was understood that Lady Bird Lake and its surrounding park is a high traffic area. Selecting a site that was less of an imposition on the daily users of the lake and its trail was a very important consideration. The safety of all stakeholders was also considered under this criterion.
Being sited on water greatly deterred vandalism. The THIRST Team members monitored the installation daily (see Monitoring Plan and Safety Plan). The ease with which someone could have accessed the installation was actually far less than any sites on land. The THIRST team addressed all damage to the tree and flags after they were installed.
Numerous signs were posted on and around the site to discourage climbing and entry within a 60-foot radius. If someone had ignored the warnings, the risk would have been the same as if they had climbed any other tree in Austin, except in our case, a fall would have been broken by water. To further discourage boarding of the site, four 18”-diameter orange corner buoys were set at the tree perimeter. Swimming line markers with 5”x9” buoys at 5-foot centers were set between each of the four corners, creating a 60-foot square around the tree.
Perimeter lighting at the four corner buoys and along the perimeter roped buoys created an outline of safety protecting the tree in a 60-foot square, and light fixtures illuminated the trunk and branching structure as well as the top of the root ball. Dimmer controls were installed to insure the proper intensity and glare control. The power was supplied from the adjacent Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge provided by Austin Energy.
The THIRST team had carefully planned the installation site to not interfere with established rowing lanes. The tree was sited away from the high traffic lanes of boats and kayaks. During the peak summer months, Cabomba weed overtook a great deal of the navigable paths in Lady Bird Lake and did not subside until November. It had begun at the shorelines and grew toward the center of the lake. The tree was in alignment with the 4th abutment (from the north shore) of the Lamar Bridge and was located within the non-navigable Kabamba weed area. This greatly reduced the number of rowers, canoes, and kayaks coming near the safety fall zone.
Every effort was made to protect trees from damage. Plastic sleeves provided a cushion at mounting points for the rope and cables, which secured the flags to the trees. At Pfluger Circle, steel cables, with the flags attached to them, were strung between the existing light pole structures in a manner that was sensitive and did no harm to the existing structures.
A safety plan was in place that had been thoroughly vetted by safety professionals. Once installed, the tree had four corner buoys, lighted 24 hours per day, along with connecting strings of swim lane buoys. “Do Not Enter” notices were posted at the four corners. Also posted at the four corner buoys, as well as at six strategic vantage spots along the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, were “In Case of Emergency” signs.
The posted “In Case of Emergency” signs directed passersby to dial 311. Depending on the nature of the situation, individuals on the THIRST team were then notified to handle the situation.
This was the protocol for the routing of calls received from 311:
- In the case of floating, missing tree limbs – the Canoe Team would have been dispatched to lasso and pull the branch to shore.
- In the case of the tree listing or shifting – the Structures/Installation Team would have been dispatched to the site for remedy.
The THIRST team closely monitored the site. They also continuously inspected the base of the tree from a canoe. Close-up inspections of turnbuckles and cable stays were ongoing through the entire time of the installation. Minor adjustments were made as needed. Any concerns noted in these inspections were addressed.
An 8’x20’ work barge was launched from the boat ramp on the north shore, just west of I-35 near the Holiday Inn, and traveled to the tree site. Licensed tree removers disassembled the tree in pieces with a standard lasso removal method. The tree remains were stockpiled on the barge.
All cables, buoys, and lights were removed from the lake and placed on the barge by three certified divers. All materials were removed from the barge with a SkyTrak lift and placed on a truck with trailer and taken away for recycling.
All prayer flag components, materials, and hardware were removed entirely by the THIRST team at the end of December 2013 and recycled or re-purposed. No visible evidence of the project remains in Lady Bird Lake or along the Hike and Bike Trail.
Custom-length strands of prayer flags from the installation itself are now on sale for $2.17 per flag. Additionally, a limited quantity of unused, mint condition prayer flags is available for $5.41 each; THIRST tote bags are $10.83 each; THIRST t-shirts are $17.32 each; and prayer flags signed by artist Beili Liu are $108.25 each. All merchandise can be purchased in the THIRST Online Store as well as in-person at the Women & Their Work Gallery, located at 1710 Lavaca Street. Purchasing THIRST merchandise not only allows you or a loved one to have a piece of the project, they are also a great way to support the message of THIRST and help bring more artworks like it to Austin.
As part of the conversation that THIRST aimed to stimulate, the City of Austin provided the following information about water usage.