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Riverview: Art installation helps passers-by in Hadley take in the Connecticut

  • Hester Tittmann works on the RiverScaping project in Hadley on Wednesday afternoon.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Hester Tittmann works on the RiverScaping project in Hadley on Wednesday afternoon.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • A drawing of the art installation, composed of platforms, walls and open windows, that is intended to allow people to see the Connecticut River over the dike in Hadley.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    A drawing of the art installation, composed of platforms, walls and open windows, that is intended to allow people to see the Connecticut River over the dike in Hadley.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Laura Brooks holds a drawing of the Hadley RiverScaping she designed.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Laura Brooks holds a drawing of the Hadley RiverScaping she designed.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Laura Brooks and  Dan Kamins, work on a RiverScaping project in Hadley designed by Laura Brooks.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Laura Brooks and Dan Kamins, work on a RiverScaping project in Hadley designed by Laura Brooks.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hester Tittmann works on the RiverScaping project in Hadley on  Wednesday afternoon.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Hester Tittmann works on the RiverScaping project in Hadley on Wednesday afternoon.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • John Coroa, 21, works on a RiverScaping project in Hadley.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    John Coroa, 21, works on a RiverScaping project in Hadley.

    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hester Tittmann works on the RiverScaping project in Hadley on Wednesday afternoon.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • A drawing of the art installation, composed of platforms, walls and open windows, that is intended to allow people to see the Connecticut River over the dike in Hadley.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Laura Brooks holds a drawing of the Hadley RiverScaping she designed.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Laura Brooks and  Dan Kamins, work on a RiverScaping project in Hadley designed by Laura Brooks.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Hester Tittmann works on the RiverScaping project in Hadley on  Wednesday afternoon.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • John Coroa, 21, works on a RiverScaping project in Hadley.<br/><br/>CAROL LOLLIS

In an effort to reconnect the community to the river, a series of wooden platforms and walls with open windows that frame the river and the surrounding landscape has been constructed along North Lane, just west of the parking lot for the Alexandra Dawson Conservation Area.

Completed last week, they allow people to peek over the earthen embankment to see the Connecticut River.

The project was designed by University of Massachusetts graduate Laura Brooks of East Lyme, Conn.

She won the RiverScaping competition during her junior year when artists were invited “to define, improve, enhance and/or transform one of our sites through a small-scale creative or scientific installation.” A jury made up of Hadley residents and officials selected her design.

Brooks’ involvement began when she visited the site while in the Design III architecture studio class taught by professors Sigrid Miller Pollin and Caryn Brause. All students in the class had the opportunity to submit designs for the project.

Brooks said she realized that when standing at street level people couldn’t see beyond the dike.

“I wanted to design something that would lift people off the ground so they could see the river without going on the dike,” she said.

As the artist and designer, Brooks came up with a plan that places the wooden platforms 30 inches above ground, with another portion rising several more inches so smaller children can see the river, too.

The Hadley Walkway, as she called it in her submission, is about 30 feet long and 18 feet wide.

“The walls are meant to change people’s perception of the river,” she said. “The cutouts in these walls will give you a specific view of the river and the street.”

European connection

The Hadley project is one of four projects along the river in the Pioneer Valley, with the others either installed or planned for sites in Springfield, Holyoke and Turners Falls. RiverScaping, part of a region-wide campaign to explore how the river shapes and connects communities in the region, has been led by Thom Long, an assistant professor of architectural studies at Hampshire College.

The project is a partnership between Five Colleges Inc. and people in Hamburg, Germany, with Long leading a trip to the foreign port city to understand urban river landscapes and how property along the Connecticut could be used. Brooks received $7,500 as winner of the competition, which was sponsored by the European Union. RiverScaping also had other features, including a conference with international environmental artist Christo as the keynote speaker.

The construction was done as part of a two-week course under instructor Jose Galarza of the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont. Galarza helps leads a 16-week, semester-long course for UMass students.

While Brooks expected to start building a year ago, the need to secure various permits set progress back. Then, last fall, UMass was able to have Yestermorrow lead the program in which students will receive academic credits.

“They’ve been so helpful with this,” said Brooks, who started meeting with Galarza weekly earlier this year to plan the building.

Galarza said he had to take Brooks’ design and blueprints and find a practical way to get the structure built, with the understanding that because it is a piece of art the design is more eccentric than a standard building.

“My role is really as a facilitator and the person who knows the most of how things have to come together,” Galarza said.

The piece is deliberately designed to have low impact on its surroundings. Only a small amount of dirt was removed to put in the footings that hold the structure to the ground. While the lumber is pressure-treated, it is EraWood, an ecological material.

Besides Brooks and Galarza, the work team included seven UMass students and one Hampshire College student who come from backgrounds in architecture, landscaping, building and construction and studio art.

The platform is much like a deck, with girders on the sides holding up the studs and joists. The walls, ranging from 3½ to 8½ feet tall, were framed off-site at the UMass art studio.

Hands on

Hester Tittmann of Cambridge, who will be a fourth-year student at Hampshire College concentrating in architecture and critical theory, heard about the project through Long.

“I really liked the hands-on building experience and the opportunity to do something fun to start the summer,” said Tittmann, who was working at the site last week, hammering nails and sawing wood.

Dan Kamins from Gloucester, who will be a senior at UMass in landscape architecture, was there, too. “I wanted to do something architecture-related,” he said.

He said that while he has some building experience working for his father, the challenge in this project has been ensuring everything stays level.

Brooks said she will use almost all the money she received for materials and the rental of a generator to run the power tools, including a jackhammer to install the piers.

Susan Norris, a Hadley resident who was on the jury that selected the winning design, said she is pleased to finally see the project materialize.

“It’s really exciting for Hadley to do a project like this,” Norris said. “It’s going to be a lovely thing.”

Brooks said she hopes residents and people passing through will stop to use it.

“This installation is for the people,” she said.

Hey, cheer up folks: If it were Amherst there would have been 10 committees, a town meeting vote, and it would have raised our real estate taxes $5 per thousand. Not to mention months of nimby protests complete with yard signs every 5 feet.

I drive along North Lane every day. It's a beautiful, restful alternative to Route 9. Every time I see this new, pointless wooden structure -- this eyesore -- I am more offended by it. What fool imagined that anyone needed a little stage to stand on to see the river? -- The dike is right there: walk up it. And who would think anyone would prefer to see the river through a window frame -- outdoors, the very place we go to get rid of walls and windows? It is just an insult to a lovely place. Please, please remove this arrogant, stupid thing.

I've seen the installation and I feel that it's an intrusion on nature and the natural environment. For decades, I have parked my car, walked just a little bit up the side of the dike and have taken long walks to view the CT River, which is gorgeous in that area of Hadley. I don't think this big structure helps me to view the river any better than walking along the pathway on the dike does. Rather, the structure screams that it was man-made, and yet another futile attempt to "improve" upon natural beauty or to control it. I do not need something artificial imposed on the environment to help me view nature. Conversely, it seems like an obstacle. I hope the installation is not permanent. Let us just look at the greenery and the river, instead! We don't need a wooden deck to do so.

I am five feet tall and standing on the structure I can't see anything. Also, didn't they know about the vegetation on the bank that obstructs my view? I don't get it.

So, help me out here. I must be missing something here. Instead of just walking on top of the dyke to see the river and the landscape, they can, ahem, stand on this platform and have their view raised by a couple of feet. "Completed last week, they allow people to peek over the earthen embankment to see the Connecticut River." Why not just stand on the dyke? I drive by this thing twice a day. It's an eye-sore - worse yet, it's an unnecessary waste of time and effort. Really, people can't walk 15ft more to the top of the dyke and take a gander?

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