Exhale: The Cornerstone of 140 West



The Cornerstone of 140 West

 by Tom Griffen

Have you ever stopped to look at the sculpture at 140 West Franklin Plaza? You know, that rising curve of stainless steel that seems to be growing out of the walkway? That objet d’art aesthetically linked to a grey-scale walkway and flanked by stone rises that double as viewing benches? You know this sculpture, right?

You know, the one that emits a mysterious mist, and come nightfall shines and fades a palette of ecstatic colors as if a rainbow were birthing from the earth’s molten core. It’s that thing your kids climb on, or want to climb on. The contraption you’ve maybe seen teenagers attempt to skateboard, or launch their BMX bike over with élan. Maybe you’ve wanted to sit or lean on it but were afraid you might trigger it alive.

Strike a chord yet?

The sculpture I call to mind is the skillful design work that categorically marks the southwest quadrant of 140 West—one of Chapel Hill’s newest, most vibrant, and potentially fun spots on the length of Franklin Street. And it’s begging for you to take a closer look.

I know you know this mystical place. Of course you do. But let me ask you this (clears his throat)—do you really know this newish corner of town? Have you an intimate awareness of what’s actually happening with that curious Space Burrito as I’ve heard it called by locals less-impressed by the artist’s metal handiwork.

Uh-huh. That’s what I thought.

Take note. What I am about to tell you is important. It’s part of the contemporary history of our fine town. Part of what makes us unique, what makes us stand out.

The sculpture occupying the corner of 140 West is simply named, Exhale. It was created by Mikyoung Kim Design and was made specifically to invigorate a pedestrian-oriented landscape. Which is to say, add some life to what would have otherwise been a concrete corner.

140 West is a downtown area that is public, residential, and business-oriented. Mia Candy, a UNC grad and freelance urban planner told me that the most innovative spaces, worldwide, follow a “rule of ten.” There must be at least ten things one can do in a particular urban space, and four that are constantly being done. Where Exhale sits you can, (1) peruse the myriad shops, (2) grab a bite to eat, (3) take a walk through the plaza, (4) sit on a bench and watch the artwork transform, (5) meet a friend for conversation…must I go on? The artwork is purposeful. It is inventive, avant-garde, and new-fangled. Weird enough to be cool, but conservative enough to be unassuming.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Exhale, like any piece of thoughtful artwork, is rich with a deeper meaning.

Let’s analyze this for a second:

Exhale creates a visual link between Rosemary and Franklin Street. A bridge between old and new. The inner-workings of the piece transform water into fog, and this evaporation symbolizes the natural process of change. Change, however, in the hydrological cycle is deceiving because though water changes forms, it’s still just water.

Simply put, Exhale is a metaphor. It represents a necessary element for growth. But one that insists that the past is equally as important as the future.

Chapel Hill, like any innovative town, will always be undergoing change. Some changes may be less appealing, misunderstood, considered misplaced, or even a waste of money, but such will always be the responses to change in the first place.

Rather than fight it, we just might be better off embracing it.

I recommend you schedule a walk (not drive) to 140 West Franklin Plaza. Bring your appetite. Bring a book. Bring a friend. Participate in Chapel Hill’s innovation and plan to stay a while. Come to get to know, and maybe even grow to love, the Steaming Cheese Grater, er-ahem, I mean Exhale—the cornerstone of 140 West Franklin Plaza.