Sri Lanka Express

Sri Lankan-born designer's Freedom Sculpture puts Santa Monica Blvd. on the world map

  The Freedom Sculpture (Photo by Hassina Leelarathna)
By Hassina Leelarathna
Posted August 31, 2017
You can't miss it if you're driving down historic Route 66, on Santa Monica Boulevard just outside the Westfield Century City mall, a thriving hub of high-end retail shops and eating places on the border of  Beverly Hills.  And if you're Sri Lankan, you can't help that little smugness that comes from knowing that the 20,000-pound stainless steel monument dubbed The Freedom Sculpture, set upon travertine stone in a permanent spot on the meridian, seen by thousands of motorists, and considered a symbol of cultural diversity by the City of Los Angeles, is the creation of internationally renowned Sri Lankan-British designer Cecil Balmond OBE .  





















































The sculpture with its interlocking gold and silver geometric patterns is modeled on the Cyrus Cylinder of ancient Persia and was formally gifted to the city by the Fahrang Foundationon on the 4th of July this year in the presence of an estimated 75,000 people who had gathered for the inaugural L.A. Freedom Festival.  The Cyrus Cylinder is an ancient, clay tablet in a cylindrical shape with a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script in the name of Persia's Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great.  It is considered to be the world’s first declaration of human rights.

The Farhang Foundation is a Los Angeles-based philanthropic organization which promotes cultural and artistic programs in the Iranian-American community.

The foundation did not want a few wealthy supporters underwriting the project and chose instead to crowd-fund the sculpture.  The  response was phenomenal: 1.1 million contributors from several countries opened their pocketbooks.   In search of just the right design, Farhang held an international competition, vetting more than 300 submissions. 

Balmond's design was selected because the jurors felt the Cyrus Cylinder best embodied the values of diversity and personal freedom.


































Describing the intention behind his design, Balmond, who lived in Tehran for a period of his life, said in an interview with a Los Angeles Times reporter that he appreciated Cyrus the Great’s early championing of human rights.

“The message of shared freedom is needed now more than ever in the world, here in this country and everywhere else,” he said.


Balmond is best known for his large public displays which include the award-winning “Snow Words,” an abstract tower of light suspended between a skylight and a mirrored floor in the lobby of the Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage, Alaska, to commemorate fallen officers in 2012.  

Often described as a "visionary engineer and architect," Balmond's believes that  as much as architecture deals with form,texture, and materiality "it also engages with movement and relationships that occur between effects."

Los Angeles, the city known as the car capital of the world, is a natural home for the Freedom Sculpture which reflects that vision of a sculpture being at once immutable and dynamic.   

“I know Santa Monica Boulevard well ..... “As you drive by at 30 to 40 miles an hour, you feel the script moving. It’s not static….. When you move past, it’s alive" Balmond  who was present at the July 4th unveiling told the LA Times.
 
And in an interview with the LA Daily News:
“Here’s a message that has come down 2,500 years and landed itself on a busy thoroughfare in Los Angeles where people are going to pass it by the million.  It’s like the message keeps on traveling.”
























Balmond, of Sri Lankan Burgher descent, is the son of H.J. Balmond, onetime registrar of the University of Ceylon.  He spent the early part of his life in Sri Lanka where he attended Royal College and later Trinity College before entering the Colombo University to study civil engineering.

Now 74 and an international legend, Balmond is giving back to his country of birth in a big way.  He has designed the massive John Keells Holdings' (JKH) Waterfront Project.
   
The $650-million behemoth undertaking includes a 6-star hotel, apartment blocks, retail centre, office buildings and car parks. Balmond has described the project which is planned for completion in 2018 as "a
mini city within a city."  

The project which has received publicity worldwide has been headlined as one that will "put Sri Lanka on the world map."
 
But when it comes to putting a place on the world map, Balmond's projects don't depend on magnitude of either space or budget, as borne out by accounts of what the Freedom Sculpture is doing for Santa Monica Boulevard.  It cost a little more than $2 million and, on an urban street that stretches 87.9 miles, occupies just a smidgen of space.  Besides, it sits there permanently and famously, for all the world to see.

  Mr. Cecil Balmond (Photo courtesy Balmond Studio)
The Freedom Sculpture's golden inner cylinder is illuminated at night by LED lights. (Photo courtesy Farhang Foundation)
 Jerry Brown, Governor of California
"The Freedom Sculpture is the ideal monument to represent what California embodies, a state which actively embraces and values diversity." - California Governor Jerry Brown
Read the governor's Proclamation.

 
Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles
"The Freedom Sculpture is a testament to the values we hold dear, and we are honored to receive it."