Rockwood Sunrise

the skinny by heavy industries

What does it take to create a sunrise? In mythology the Gods are responsible for the Sun, Apollo, Helios, Sol, wielding a mixture of magic and mystery.

Rockwood Sunrise 6

For Rockwood Sunrise in Gresham, Oregon, to create a sunrise it takes a whole lot of skill and ability; the artistic vision and creation lying in the hands of Dan Corson, the fabrication and engineering, well that was up to us, here at Heavy Industries.



Concept by Dan Corson


When TriMet and the City of Oregon decided to refurbish the Rockwood MAX, light-rail train station in Gresham, Oregon, an art advisory committee approached Dan Corson to be their man. Rockwood Sunrise was the artwork that was chosen. It had been given a great deal of thought by Corson.

The project had weight to it – he was designing a refurbishment in an area that needed a little help – a facelift, a morale boost. Media coverage had been posting articles with titles like Time to get serious about MAX safety (1), and TriMet stating their goal was “to improve pedestrian safety and the experience for riders,” (2) .

So Corson set out to create a project that would ameliorate the area. He shares his thoughts on what public art does for culture, and in essence what he hoped his work would do for Gresham,

“Public art is cultural tourism that draws guests to a neighbourhood, but deeply creates a wealth and depth to the fabric of the built environment … it is the thing that makes an area unique and special. There is a deep sense of ownership and identity that happens around artwork that gets knit within the world.”




Rockwood Sunrise didn’t have just one theme, but like the surrounding neighbourhood in which it would live, many flavours of life flourishing, the piece would too reflect this.

The site has a unique history, hosting the Multnomah County Fair, the first fair in its county, giant Ferris wheel and all.


Ferris' Wheel


People of many cultural backgrounds live in the Rockwood neighbourhood. Corson wanted the piece to reflect these cultures. The passionate, fiery colours and sun symbolism present in Hispanic cultures, a resemblance of painted fans in Asian cultures. In additional to this of course, as Dan eloquently put it, “Gresham is the sunrise of Portland,” so not only do the colours and formation of the piece reflect the sun, so too does its geographic location, respectively.

At Heavy, we took all of these concepts to heart and got down to business.
From design and engineering to installation, we did it!

Rockwood Sunrise, in short, is a series of steel spires set over a train station. Fibre reinforced polymer, steel and LED lighting. The spires are arranged to create a moiré effect, playing with shadow as light passes through them. Additionally, the tips of the spires light up to announce the passing train, handy, as Corson puts it, for those coming upon the station, to know if they have missed their train.


Screen Shot 2011-12-19 at 1.44.14 PM


Let’s get into the details, shall we?

Design and engineering was a big part of Rockwood Sunrise. We worked with engineers through the design phase, planning every aspect of fabrication and installation from the start. Skilled engineering was important; with spires measuring up to 40’, and angled to boot, safety and durability were imperative in the design.

Concept by Dan Corson


Final Drawings



The brightly painted stainless steel rays of Rockwood Sunrise reach 30’ to 40’ high with tips that add an additional 6’. The fanned-out rays span 80 feet wide, tip to tip, and roughly 40’ wide along the base.


The frame is made of structural steel as are the pipes that make up the spires. Metal fabrication was a huge part of this project and we worked with Thompson Metal Fabrication, a local Oregon large-scale metal fabricator, to bring the structural elements of this project together.




Lighting was an important part to the piece as well, as creative lighting techniques is one of Corson’s expertise. “A common thread in most of my work is that it has a daytime/night time switch – lighting is important to the piece – mirrors, sunlight and reflectivity, fire, neon, helicopter search lights.” When asked why this is important to him he describes, “Having a differentiation – between day and night is intriguing to me. I like things to transform; transformation allows things to be fresh and interesting.”


Screen Shot 2011-12-19 at 2.13.51 PM


This was accomplished in the 6’ translucent fibreglass cones topping the spires. They are internally lit, electronically controlling a light display that illuminates the translucent cones to signal the coming and going of trains. They create a glowing visual landmark for the entire area.


Cone Tips



To make the cones, we created a positive form using hardcoated EPS, based on a digital 3D model. The positive form was then turned into a mould and then 50 cones were cast in two halves, in translucent fibreglass, then seamed together.





Every cone was given a blue-tinted, UV-resistant, clear coat. This acts to protect the fibreglass resin and prevent it from dis-colouring due to sun exposure. It also serves to tint all the translucent cones blue for aesthetic appearance in the daytime.

LED flood lights also illuminate the rays from the base at night which helps to create a glowing sunrise effect.

All of the steel pieces were sandblasted and then painted with a blended multi-colour gradient, paint finish. They were given specialized coatings including Zinc-based Epoxy Primer for high-end adhesion and corrosion resistance, followed by industrial grade topcoat paint, and a protective clear coat.

fade detail


We also built the shelters and support arches that the spires sit on.


Shelter Fabrication




Support structure fabrication




Fitting the spires to the support mount


Once all of the pieces were ready, we were involved in the on-site assembly.


Stations set in place on site and anchoring support structures




The giant spires were craned into place in the middle of the night. This had to be done in 52 minutes intervals between the last train that ran at night and the first train that ran in the morning. This was a massive consideration right from the beginning of the project. As such, the piece was designed in sections to accommodate the installation.


Attaching spires to supports.


Welded – Primed – Painted



Staging the spires on site



The spires in their shipping cradles



Dan helps us shine up the spires after shipping





Placement at night during short intervals



Stage is set for cones and wiring



Wiring at the base of spires



Bolting on the cones



Screen Shot 2011-12-19 at 2.11.26 PM



Screen Shot 2011-12-19 at 1.39.29 PM


Rockwood Sunrise 3



Once all the spires were in place, the cones were attached, wiring was run for the LED lights, the LED light program was tested, and finally the platform was open for business.




Here are a few more photos of the completed artwork:


Rockwood Sunrise 1


Rockwood Sunrise 4


Rockwood Sunrise 5


Rockwood Sunrise 8


Corson lives and works in Seattle. His background stems from theatre and opera where he originally worked designing theatrical sets and lighting. This transitioned into public art in a variety of environments, both natural and built; Corson has now completed over four dozen public art installations in his career and is the Chairman of Seattle’s Public Art Committee. He is nationally recognized for his light-based artworks and finds inspiration in the intersection of science and nature and human perception.

We were thrilled to work with such a knowledgeable public artist as Corson on this project, integrating technique with creative expertise.

What do you think about the process behind the art?




Leave a reply