Herbert Bayer’s Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks marks a turning point in the integration of art, ecology, and landscape architecture. Constructed in 1982, the Earthworks is composed of sculpted earth, pathways, water, and lawns, which function together as public park, storm water retention facility, and landscape artwork. Commissioned by the City of Kent in response to King County’s 1979 groundbreaking symposium, Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture, the project’s 2.5 acres of cones, circles, lines, and berms both manage and reveal Mill Creek’s episodic cycles of flood and drought. The symposium and the Earthworks were instrumental in shifting the concept of public art from one of placing discrete works of art in public locations to creating artful public places with strong aesthetic qualities.
Designated as Kent’s first City Landmark in April 2008, the project is simultaneously both intact and protected and also significantly threatened by the greater demand for the ecological function it provides. In summer 2008 the dams were altered to meet more stringent Washington State regulations than the 100-year flood levels required at the time that Bayer designed the Earthworks. City and County Historic Preservation staff members have worked closely with environmental engineers to ensure that the required changes minimally impact the berm’s appearance and sight lines.