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Co-creator not sad at 'Topo' loss

The name of New Jersey landscape architect Henry Arnold is often omitted when people discuss his $340,000 “Topo” environmental sculpture recently destroyed at the old Charlotte Coliseum site. That's because his collaborator in 1991 was Maya Lin, who became a celebrity for designing the nation's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or The Wall. Arnold worked with Lin on that project. However, “Topo” marked their last collaboration. Following are excerpts of an interview with staff writer Mark Price.

Q. How do you feel about “Topo” being destroyed to make room for a mixed-use development?

Moving it, or a piece of it, was a suggestion, but we didn't feel it did anything for the original work of art. It wouldn't be the same as the original….When you do works of landscape architecture, you are working with plants that have limited life spans. They get old and die. The “Topo” lived their natural life under the conditions where they were growing. I'm sorry that it was lost, but I think it was time. … Too often, we try to hang onto things beyond their natural blossoming finish. We shouldn't expect things to go beyond what nature plans for them.

Q. You were here for the installation in 1991. Did you ever come back to check up on “Topo”?

Yes, a number of times. … One always has high expectations for how things will be maintained and survive, but I think it lost something in time. I guess in public spaces like that, the custom is normal maintenance. But the way these topiaries were being pruned wasn't up to the standard I envisioned. It's not to criticize. There's just a difference in the normal process and the process we specified.

Q. You and Maya Lin both created the piece, but she often got all the credit. Did that bother you?

It was truly collaboration. I had a lot to do with the technical aspects, and she had more to do with the aesthetic aspects. But we both agreed on how it was to be done. … It's true that my name often disappeared. It always happens when you work with somebody who has that kind of name and fame. …One accepts that. It's hard on the ego, but it's normal.

Q. How did you come to be involved in the Vietnam memorial?

She called and asked if I'd work with her as a landscape architect on the project. It was more than just building a wall. It involved grading and drainage, and plants inserted into the design. A barrier was also needed around the top to keep people from running over the top. … She knew of me, because (my firm) had done the design for Constitution Gardens. That's a 40-acre site on the federal mall where the memorial is located. She wanted someone familiar with the site.

Q. Why was “Topo” your last collaboration as a team?

It's the way things go, I guess. I haven't had much contact with her since then. She's become so busy with other things. … I've spoken to her a number of times. She's a private person. I can't even tell you what her attitude is toward this piece (“Topo”), or the loss of it.

Q. Do you have other active projects in Charlotte?

I was there last year, looking at a project, the Charlotte Towers by the Westin. That is on hold now, but if it goes ahead, we may have something else to show you there.

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