Seeing the Big Picture in the CalEPA Headquarters Courtyard
Every weekday morning, I walk up a stone pathway to the entrance of the CalEPA headquarters building. Like many CalEPA employees and visitors, I appreciate the natural landscape of the front courtyard space and occasionally sit outside on a stone bench under the redwood trees to eat my lunch. The courtyard is an area where tenants and visitors of the building can relax and enjoy California’s beautiful outdoors. Although I sensed the courtyard has an intentional design, I never gave it much thought until recently. I met with Property Manager Heidi Silveira and learned the landscape and artwork gracing the entrance to the building have significant meaning. The courtyard in front of the building reminds us of California’s many regions and our mission to protect public health and the environment. Take a tour with me.
As you face the front entrance, you will notice to the right a winding wall of tall dark gray stones that wrap around the daycare facility’s outdoor playground. Miners originally quarried these serpentine slabs in 1800 for use in the construction of the San Francisco Ferry Building. The Ferry Building architects found fault with the stones, rejected them from the project, and left them in a field where they aged until CalEPA’s architect, David Martin, discovered them and repurposed them here. Today, they symbolize California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
Directly in front of the rock pillar mountains are medium-sized, round boulders that represent the foothills of California that rise up between the valleys and mountains.
A large, cream-colored walkway stretches down the middle of the courtyard from the I Street sidewalk to the building’s front doors. This walkway represents California’s fertile Central Valley. If you are standing on the second floor mezzanine and look out over the walkway, you’ll see the stones are laid in a pattern reminiscent of a bird’s eye view of California’s patchwork farmlands.
Just to the left of the valley are beds dotted with plants native to California. Currently, you will see several species of wild grasses growing in large tufts. The landscape changes over time as droughts come and go and plants spread seeds and sprout volunteers in new places. This beautiful courtyard landscape requires ongoing maintenance to keep it healthy and beautiful. This spring, landscapers are adding new plants along the edge of the redwood grove to reduce the amount of redwood needles that blow into the building’s lobby. The landscapers will also better define the pathways to the stone seats to protect the plant beds.
The grove of redwood trees remind us of California’s coastal range. A well-worn path guides you to small stone slabs nestled under the tree canopy. You may have noticed that the redwoods have a robust skirt of needles on the ground. Redwood needles are an ideal mulch for these majestic trees, and they help reduce water loss, regulate soil temperature, and prevent soil erosion.
Perhaps the most well-known feature of the CalEPA building’s courtyard is the large sculpture installation by artist Beverly Pepper. Pepper believed that protecting the environment is a sacred responsibility and built this “monolithic sculpture and configuration of the sculpture [to] invoke the figure of a sentinel as a monument to the sacred duty of protecting nature.”
Now when I walk to work, I look across the courtyard and remind myself that I am a small part of a big effort to safeguard California from pollution. I look up to the sentinels and remind myself I am an advocate for our natural resources and for environmental justice. From the mountains to the valleys to the coast and everywhere in between, the work we do is important.
You can read more about Pepper’s work and other art in our building on CalEPA’s Public Art webpage.