UW News

August 5, 2010

You oughta be in pictures — on Montlake’s ‘Great Wall of Us’

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” So wrote Robert Frost in his poem, Mending Wall.

But if a wall is necessary to keep the public safe from a construction site, and if that wall is going to be there for six years, wouldn’t it be nice if it could be lovable?

The University and Sound Transit are trying to make that happen with the wall that surrounds the site next to Montlake Boulevard where a Sound Transit station is being constructed. So they’ve decided to create “The Great Wall of Us” by covering the space with photographs of people.

“If we want this to be something the community loves, why wouldn’t we put the community on the wall?” asked Alanya Cannon, somewhat rhetorically.

Cannon, senior creative manager in design and production for UW Marketing, has been among those involved in working on the wall project, which came about when Sound Transit approached the University, offering to put something on the wall. Their purpose was to generate interest and excitement about the station to be built on the site.

Tricia Thompson, associate vice president for marketing, said the idea of advertising for the University or for Sound Transit was quickly rejected. “After many meetings and brainstorming, we decided we wanted to create something that would be a gift to the community,” she said. “This is going to be with us for a long time, so we didn’t want a big billboard.”

That’s when someone mentioned a construction site in New York where the construction company had taken photos of the people who walked by and put them up on the wall. And the idea of “The Great Wall of Us” was born.

But how to get the photos? Rather than random shots of people walking by, the team decided to get willing people to pose by renting a photo booth and taking it University events. Nearly everyone has been in one at some point, inserting their money and getting back a strip of photos. In this case people didn’t have to pay, but they did have to agree that the photos could be used on the wall.

“We have signs posted letting people know when they go into the booth what will happen to the imagery,” Cannon said. “And I’m there all the time. There is not a moment that the booth is not manned, and I tell people what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and what the photos will be used for.”

The photo booth made campus appearances at the spring football game and the HUB closing celebration. It was also at the launch of Husky Central downtown and at the Tukwila Sound Transit station where passengers were headed to a Mariner game. Most recently it was at the UW Medical Center.

People who go into the booth still get their photo prints, but Cannon gets the digital images. Right now she has about 500 “instances” from the photo booth, with six prints from each instance. It’s estimated that about 400 photos of varying sizes will fit on the wall.

The wall is built in 1-by-1 foot squares so that individual images can be changed over the life of the wall. The panels are 6 feet high and 4 feet wide and will be placed 2 feet off the ground to protect the imagery from splashing during the rainy season. In addition to images, the walls will have explanatory text, a transit station map and viewing windows so passersby can check out the progress of construction.

The material being used is an aluminum substrate. The graphics are then printed on vinyl, coated with anti-graffiti over-laminate and applied to the substrate to form a protective exterior coating

“It’s fairly graffiti proof,” Cannon said. “Even if it gets paint on it, it washes off fairly easily. And we have a maintenance plan with Sound Transit; they will help clean it up if something happens.”

In addition to the wall, marketing intends to use digital images from the photo booth on a website, which is yet to be built. The website will provide a place to use images that don’t make it to the wall. Plans are for the Great Wall of Us to go up by the end of August.