Scottsdale Public Art: Windows to the West

As part of our ongoing public art series, we’ve been exploring exceptional creations to be found across Scottsdale, from the unique Water to Water, to the latest installation, Pinball Wizard. Today however, the spotlight is on Windows to the West, Scottsdale’s first public art installation and one that still inspires the city today after more than 50 years in the city. 

In June 1970, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded the City of Scottsdale a $20,000 matching grant to commission its own notable work of art by an American sculptor. The NEA program, Works of Arts in Public Places, would go on to fund more than 700 works of public art across the country, and Scottsdale was the first small city they approached at the time. 

Two years later, in February 1972, the City of Scottsdale finished raising their $20,000 of the matching grant, and the Scottsdale Fine Arts Commision chose acclaimed sculptor Louise Nevelson to create the first work of public art for the city. Nevelson, who is regarded as one of the best sculptors of the 20th century, completed the expressionist sculpture out of monochromatic corten steel designed to patina with time. Its abstract structure and shapes resemble some of her other iconic creations. 

Louise Nevelson, the creator of Window to the West, Gazing at her other artwork, 1978, Courtesy of Dixie Guerrero, ©Pedro E. Guerrero Archives

Although the sculpture was originally titled Atmosphere and Environments XVIII, thanks to its westward placement after its completion, it quickly became known as Windows to the West. Since its dedication in 1973, the sculpture has remained a treasured landmark of Scottsdale and continues to showcase how far the city’s appreciation for art has come.

Today, due to renovations on the Scottsdale Civic Center where the Windows to the West lived, the sculpture is in storage until the construction is finished in 2023. When it returns, art enthusiasts can expect the beloved sculpture to find its new home closer to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, but with the same western spirit as before.

Sculpture Spotlight: Silver Fern

As devout fans of Modernism, at Optima we love to experiment with form and function. That’s how Optima Co-Founder David Hovey Sr. got into sculpture. Combining his love of art with his interest in materials, David Hovey Sr. began manipulating steel to create striking sculptural pieces that play complement to Optima’s architectural spaces. Today, we’re examining one of his sculptures: Silver Fern.

Silver Fern in the 7160 tower at Optima Kierland Apartments
Silver Fern in the 7160 tower at Optima Kierland Apartments

Like all original Optima sculptures, Silver Fern is a piece that has many versions, varying in both size and color. But what never changes is the form of the piece: Silver Fern is a uniquely two-dimensional sculpture. Silver Fern’s two-dimensionality allows the sculpture to explore the nature of a flat piece of steel, given depth through other experimental plays. The smooth piece of steel is laser cut with circles and triangles that create depth through shadows and voids. Meanwhile, jagged edges and sharp corners play perfect juxtaposition to the soft, sweeping curve of the steel, further illuminating the material’s multifaceted ways of being.

Silver Fern at 7180 Optima Kierland
Silver Fern at 7180 Optima Kierland

The sculpture’s many adaptable forms play perfectly in our various communities. In the 7160 tower at Optima Kierland Apartments, two iterations of Silver Fern pose side-by-side, one in brilliant orange and one in striking yellow, their curves blending together to create an undulating pattern. The sculptures are seen through the front glass curtain wall by anyone walking up through the courtyard, activating the space with energy from the get-go. Meanwhile at 7180 Optima Kierland, a Silver Fern piece swathed in neon green plays bold contrast to Modernist red chairs in the lobby.

Whether we’re experimenting with form, function, size or color — at Optima we love to playfully implement sculpture as yet another component of thoughtful design.

Sculpture Spotlight: Windsong

A striking piece that complements the surrounding green space at Optima Camelview Village, Windsong creates a bold statement that both contrasts with and engages its environment. As with Kiwi, Duo and other original Optima sculptures, Windsong was designed by David Hovey Sr., and today we dissect its form and how it integrates into a larger context.

To stand out against its colorful backdrop, Windsong stands more than 15 feet tall, providing a dramatic addition to the Arizona desert foliage. The sculpture is oriented around a rotating turntable, allowing the top pieces to move with the flow of the wind. Through movement and size alone, Windsong celebrates and embraces the elements, subtly alluding to Scottsdale’s connection to and love of nature. 

With a mixture of color and shapes, Windsong also evokes a playful and enthusiastic energy. Each piece of the sculpture is composed of both sharp corners and rounded edges, a culmination of form that emits joy. 

Optima’s passion for public art, both inside and outside our building, is a reflection of our dedication to engaging, beautiful spaces. Whether it’s through architecture, design or sculpture, we’re in constant pursuit of creating meaningful homes that have a lasting impact. 

A Close Look at the Curtain Wall

As a design-driven real estate development firm, our Modernist roots shine in each one of our projects. A staple of classic Modernist design, we often employ glass curtain walls to create stunningly transparent and sleek exteriors. In respect to the tradition and technique, we’re diving deep into the history of the curtain wall and its impact on our structures today.

The curtain wall at Optima Signature
The curtain wall at Optima Signature

The Curtain Wall Defined

A curtain wall is a nonstructural exterior component of a building, at first serving the mere purpose of keeping weather out and occupants in. Being nonstructural, curtain walls are often made of lightweight materials such as glass, metal panels or thin stone. Glass curtain walls have the added benefit of introducing deeply penetrating natural light into a building, and can offer broad, sweeping views, creating seamless cohesion between the built environment and its natural surroundings. 

Because curtain walls are nonstructural components, load-bearing responsibilities fall on the shoulders of strong metal frames. The invention of the curtain wall was in fact made possible by the growth of the iron and steel industry, when these strong metal materials were made more readily available and affordable to the mass market in the late 18th century. 

The first Modernist building, The Crystal Palace, was built during this time. Shortly after The Crystal Palace, Modernist master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe pioneered the contemporary steel-and-glass aesthetic that defined an era and way of designing, coining the name for the style: “skin-and-bones architecture.” Today, designing minimalistic, functional building frames in steel and glass, and employing curtain walls to do so, continues to be a signature mark of Modernist structures.

The curtain wall at Optima Old Orchard Woods
The curtain wall at Optima Old Orchard Woods

Adding Beauty and Sustainability

As a building material, glass has evolved considerably over the years. Our capability to utilize glass in curtain wall systems connects indoors and outdoors, and promises a beautiful environment, with an abundance of natural sunlight and impressive views. Outside of aesthetic, glass curtain walls also serve the functionality of increased performance in temperature moderation, moisture protection and improved acoustics. 

In our own projects, we utilize Low-E UV protected laminated glass with a heat reflective coating, which contributes to a regulated indoor environment, particularly in the harsh Arizona climate, and provides added sustainability, decreasing energy need for additional heating and cooling control.

As we continue to explore the integration of the built and the natural environment, we appreciate the curtain wall for its transparency and sustainability, and the wonder that it adds to exceptional Modernist design.


A Brief History of Steel

One of the most utilized structural materials in the world, you’d be hard pressed to find a construction site not making use of steel. Yet what’s now a ubiquitous material was once so hard to come by that it was regarded as heaven-sent—literally. In paying our respects to steel, we’re diving deep into its rich and storied history. 

Iron, The Metal From Heaven

Before we learned to smelt iron into steel, iron itself was an alloy hard to come by. Ancient Egyptians called iron biz-n-pt, translating to “metal from heaven.” In their time, iron did come from space, crashing onto earth embedded in meteorites. This metal from heaven had a higher nickel content than the iron dug up from the ground, making it supple, malleable and resilient—and more valuable than gems or gold. It wasn’t until 2,500 BC that miners began the arduous task of removing iron from the earth, and even then, it took hundreds more years to discover how to properly separate the precious ore and manipulate it. 

From wrought iron made in primitive smelters, to cast iron made in ancient Chinese furnaces, to iron smelted in blast furnaces, the material remained challenging to produce in mass quantities and to use for a variety of purposes. Certain crafts, such as the delicate process of clock-making, called for a material that was even more malleable, even more resilient than iron. That material was steel, an alloy made by mixing iron and carbon.

One of three Bessemer Converters left in the world, at the Kelham Island Museum.
One of three Bessemer Converters left in the world, at the Kelham Island Museum. Credit: David Dixon on Geograph, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed

The Dawn of Steel

The modern steel industry was officially born in 1856 when Henry Bessemer developed a more effective and inexpensive method of producing the precious alloy. Known now as the Bessemer Process, Bessemer designed a pear-shaped receptacle in which iron could be heated while oxygen was blown through the molten metal, reacting with carbon, releasing carbon dioxide and producing a more pure iron. 

Bessemer’s process revolutionized the industry, allowing for the efficient transformation of iron into high-quality steel in mass quantities. In fact, once the steel industry in America adapted the Bessemer process too, they were able to catch up with Britain’s production, sparking an industry that generated more wealth than the 1849 California Gold Rush. 

Steelmaking in America continued to boom as technology improved, allowing for higher efficiency, safety and yield. At the end of World War I, the improved production of steel is what allowed for the invention of skyscrapers. The skyline shot upward in cities like New York and Chicago, a testament to the true strength and power of the material. Steel became a staple in the Modernist structures of masters such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, as a material that not only allowed for a fierce, durable structure, but for a simple, bold aesthetic. 

As the steel industry continues to propel forward, metallurgists seek to create more sustainable production methods, exploring electricity-based smelting and utilizing recycled steel for new projects. 

Steel and Optima

Throughout our projects at Optima, steel functions as both a structural component and a Modernist aesthetic choice. In projects such as Relic Rock and Arizona Courtyard House, we utilized Corten steel, which is a 99% recycled material. David Hovey Sr. also utilizes steel in his sculpture work, moulding the material into abstract creative expressions. From humble beginnings to its inventive usage today, steel’s versatility still inspires us to venture into new endeavors.

Optima Sculpture Spotlight: Duo

The design of interior space doesn’t end with architecture. A key component to creating engaging environments at Optima is the inclusion of art — particularly sculpture. Optima co-founder David Hovey Sr., FAIA explores new ways of expressing space, form and function through his monumental, three-dimensional sculptures in brilliantly-hued steel, including Duo, ultimately adding a new vibrancy to our carefully curated communities.


Duo at the 7160 Optima Kierland Residence Club, Scottsdale, AZ
Duo at the 7160 Optima Kierland Residence Club, Scottsdale, AZ

Originally created as a large-scale piece, Duo is a striking and abstract silhouette that evokes the image of a man and woman gazing into one another’s eyes. Hovey states that often, he doesn’t approach a piece of steel with the intention of drawing out specific imagery. Rather, he imagines how to explore form and function through the size, shape, voids and shadows, lights and sounds that emanate from the manipulation of the material. With Duo, Hovey sought to craft a study of duality and opposites through curved lines, fierce angles, symmetry and asymmetry. The human-like quality that resulted is part of the intriguing and surprising discovery from the sculpture’s true expression.

Duo now takes many sizes and colors, with one iteration adorning the front desk at Optima Signature in a brilliant pop of red. Not only does the inclusion of sculpture add a new dimension to the spaces that we design, but it allows a new avenue for exploration, discovery and expression.

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