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Image Details

Joan Baron

Earth Wall – Living Wall

Rammed earth wall and bench, community-made ceramic hands, painted concrete walls with glass block insets, painted concrete mandala

Public Art Restoration in Your Neighborhood

Scottsdale Public Art and the city of Scottsdale commissioned Earth Wall – Living Wall in 1999. After 20 years, the vibrant colors had faded drastically and were repainted in 2019–20. The painting of blue walls and barrier fencing, south mandala, and jersey barriers was completed in August, 2019. Lavender safety glass blocks were inserted in the concrete walls, and the walls were painted a warm red/orange color. The screen barriers on the bridge were painted a brilliant blue in 2020, revitalizing the original intent.

This restoration will revitalize the project and bring it back to its original design. The glass, rammed earth walls, and paint colors were accepted by City of Scottsdale’s Design Review Board in 1999. The blue refers to the clear blue sky’s reflection in the canal below. The red and lavender are representative of the desert’s spring flowers.

Scottsdale Public Art and the City of Scottsdale devote a yearly budget to maintain and restore the public art in the City.

To view a video about the project, please visit our Conservation page.

Earth Wall Restoration Earth Wall Restoration

About the artwork

Designed by Joan Baron and constructed by Rammed Earth Solar Homes of Tucson, Earth Wall – Living Wall promotes the beauty of the desert using rammed earth, ceramic, concrete, and color. Rammed earth is inherently organic, possessing irregularities and imperfections that change with time. Despite its fragile organic appearance, rammed earth is extremely strong and requires very little maintenance. Natural materials (often harvested from building sites) including clay, sand, wood, rock, and charcoal are mixed with approximately 4 percent concrete to create rammed earth.

Baron made her color choices for the concrete walls based on colors found in the natural environment—reds inspired by desert flowers like bougainvillea, flowering cacti, and desert firecracker plants; gold and bronze by the granite and earth; and shades of blue by our most precious resource, water.

Throughout the construction of the wall, the artist conducted a number of workshops inviting contributors to design the ceramic hand-shaped tiles. These hands symbolize a vehicle used by many different cultures to communicate connections between an individual’s place in time and in the universe. Rows of more than 1,000 tiles embedded on the surface of the wall now serve as part of a collective memory.

As an educator and artist, much of Baron’s work focuses on stimulating and healing experiences conveyed through art within the public realm. She lives and works in Scottsdale, where she creates many site-specific installations for residential and commercial clients. Baron has a bachelor of fine arts from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and a master of fine arts from the Art Institute of Chicago. She also facilitates workshops, seminars, and field trips that promote environmentally sensitive experiences with art.

Creating a place with spirit was my goal in the design of the sound walls and bridge detail for the Thompson Peak Parkway project in Scottsdale. To understand this spirit, I feel we can experience a balance in all that we do and envision for our families, communities, and selves. This artwork offers that experience of vitality and calm amidst the high voltage of our fast-paced society. It offers a particular relationship with color, informed by the desert environment of vivid blooming cactus and the blue sky of open spaces.

I hope others will appreciate the soft yet powerful energy of the rammed earth walls. One can reach out and feel the warm texture of this earth and make a connection. Ceramic tiles shaped from the hands of the community are embedded into the earthen walls, suggesting crystal veins of rock strata. Whether at the magical time of sunrise or a full moon, these sound walls will, like a chameleon, go through subtle transformations.

The Earth, carrier of the footsteps of all beings and a messenger of sacred moments, brings us together. Our spirit will be made alive when we are encouraged to celebrate the colors in nature. It is that search for balance, aliveness, and calm that inspired this design.

The McDowell Mountains draw us near. We can then reflect—as the sunlight glows through the purple glass windows—on the invitation to experience a different perspective. It is for the joy of discovery that we stop and peer across the canal. And it is no less the journey, when we reach the bridge and glance out over the water, to realize we have been here once before.

—      Joan Baron, 1999



LocationN 100th St & N Thompson Peak Pkwy, Scottsdale, AZ 85260, USA

ArtistJoan Baron

DatesCompleted 1999

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