The Draw at Sugar House, Salt Lake City, Utah10-26-22 | News

The Draw at Sugar House, Salt Lake City, Utah

By Patricia Johanson
by Staff

"THE DRAW AT SUGAR HOUSE" in Salt Lake City, a Utah State Dam, channels catastrophic floods down the stem of a "Sego Lily", under an 8-lane highway, through a narrow "slot canyon"-the floodwalls and spillway for the dam- and back into an incised creek.

Historically 1300 East, the major evacuation route for I-80, has suffered periodic flash floods when water overtopped the detention basin in Sugar House Park. Floodwater will now flow by gravity into the bowl of the flower with its 30-foot-high walls, go under the highway, through "Echo Canyon", and back into the creek.

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As the designer of the dam, I know that anyone who has not witnessed the construction process will perceive this project as art. In fact, the contractors themselves were mesmerized by the prospect of creating geological and sculptural formations, incorporating niches, ledges and perches for wildlife, and inserting bat boxes in the pinnacle formations.

Visitors to "Echo Canyon", the spillway that memorializes the journey of Mormon pioneers through an historic landscape, are not experiencing an "engineering project"- in fact they are finding their own ways to interact with the art.

In the past most human constructions have had monolithic goals. "The Draw at Sugar House" may be a functional diversion dam, but like all my projects it includes many ancillary features, such as a wildlife corridor lost to urban development and a performance space. Aesthetics plays a major role by engaging the audience and encouraging them to form personal connections, leading them into a dialogue with the natural world. By placing infrastructure within a cultural, visual, and historical context and considering its environmental impacts, we exponentially increase its value to urban systems.

The upcoming Stormwater and Erosion Control Issue of Landscape Architect and Specifier News saw many firms submit their projects for feature consideration. This project was not chosen for a Feature in the issue, but we at thought the project deserved to be showcased online . . .


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