This pair of urban objects contain flood control infrastructure for the surrounding Court Avenue Historic District. During significant flood events, the Des Moines River rises to a level that floods the adjacent sewer system, blowing off manhole covers and filling the basements of the surrounding buildings. In 2008, Des Moines experienced its second “500 year flood” in fifteen years and City leaders decided that construction of a pump station was warranted.
Typically, a pump station consists of a concrete wall around a set of pumps and gate valves used to divert storm water and pump it into the river. There are several of these facilities in and around Des Moines. This location, however, was very prominent; located along the new Principal Riverwalk - a $50 million public/private partnership which will revitalize the riverfront and provide a much-needed amenity for residents and employees in downtown Des Moines. As a result, the architect was asked to create a pump station that was sympathetic with the Riverwalk and, particularly, the neighboring Café Pavilion they designed three years earlier. In addition, this new facility needed to accommodate the matrix of established trails and promenades moving by and through the site.
In response, the pump station as developed as two objects – a Pump House and a Gate Valve Platform - that work together to reinforce the Riverwalk and create an understandable place. The Pump House is a formal foil to the existing Café Pavilion – sharing a formal language and material palette. Where the Café Pavilion is open and transparent, however, the new Pump House is closed and opaque. As a pair, the Café Pavilion and the new Pump House frame a public plaza and form a gateway to the Court Avenue Historic District. A new Gate Valve Platform was designed to accompany the Pump House (typically the pumps and valves are contained within a single walled compound). This structure is a glowing, translucent object atop a cast in place concrete base. The Pump House and Gate Valve Platform flank the river level recreation trail and mark the entry to the street level promenade. The architect worked with the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation and internationally recognized artist, Jun Kaneko, to locate site specific artwork to further activate this space and tie the buildings together into a single composition. This artwork includes a series of large-scale ceramic works, called Dangos, on the Café Pavilion side of Court Avenue, and an internally illuminated glass mural entitled Expansion, mounted to the north face of the Pump House.
By commissioning an architect to design this pump station, the City was hoping to minimize the visual damage done to the Riverwalk. Much to their surprise, the resulting composition is more successful as a “place” with the completed pump station than it was prior to its construction. The space is now framed, clearly delineated, and understandable. As a result, the pump station is an asset – both functionally and visually.