Called a “love letter” to Arlington, a 20-foot-tall glass and steel obelisk erected in the center of a traffic roundabout on University Boulevard North was officially dedicated on Wednesday by the artist who designed it and the private university whose main entrance it graces.
Designed and installed by artist Shan Shan Sheng, the towering piece glows blue at night with scenes of historic Arlington on its bronze base.
Standing 31 feet tall including its landscaped base atop the “turbo roundabout” at the University Boulevard and Merrill Road, the obelisk was mostly complete in mid-summer. But as with Rome, this public art “wasn’t built in a day,” Sheng said.
“The project is the culmination of five years of planning and coordination between teams spanning three continents,” the artist said in a university statement following the dedication. “The obelisk is a monumental sculpture that serves as a symbol of knowledge, enlightenment, and the pursuit of higher education at Jacksonville University. This towering structure stands as a bright beacon of inspiration, inviting students, faculty, and visitors to engage with its magnificent presence.”
“Now, there’s a sense of place. We’ve always said we don’t want to be in Arlington, we want to be of Arlington,” said JU President Tim Cost.
The roundabout replaced traditional traffic signals and turn lanes about 18 months ago at an intersection that handles about 30,000 cars a day. JTA officials say its two-lane design lets traffic flow without stopping, except for when walkers or bicyclists trigger crosswalk signals.
University officials began searching in 2019 for an artist to add a public sculpture to the roundabout’s center when the $4 million JTA MobilityWorks project was announced. A committee reviewed more than 40 proposals, picking three finalists before choosing Sheng’s design.
The Shanghai-born artist’s design pays homage to the ancient obelisks seen in Rome and Egypt, with designs on each side to reflect their community. The bronze base includes images of the nearby Mathews Bridge, the national historic landmark Norman Studios’ Production Building on Arlington Road, and an aircraft carrier like those once berthed at Naval Station Mayport. The fourth side contains a dedication plaque.
Sheng designed, fabricated, and installed the piece with support from the Renew Arlington CRA, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and longtime Jacksonville University partner Haskell. Jacksonville University donated the sculpture to the city through the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville.
The $800,000 project was funded by donors and Jacksonville University. Cost said on Wednesday that the school is grateful for the “immense generosity that made this meaningful piece of public art possible.”