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The newest art installation at Seattle Center appears fanciful, even whimsical. But it has a serious mission: to get you to think more about solar power.

“There’s a myth that solar power won’t work in Seattle,” said artist Dan Corson. “But even on the cloudy days we get a lot of, solar does work.”

It had better. The massive metal and fiberglass “flowers” he designed depend on it.

City officials yesterday unveiled “Sonic Bloom,” a cluster of five flowers up to 33 feet tall outside the Pacific Science Center.

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Solar panels atop each one, and on the adjacent science center, will gather sunlight each day and use it to light the display at night, when thousands of small LEDs (light-emitting diodes) on the underside of the flowers display changing patterns of color.

Day and night, the exhibit comes to life with a harmonious chant as people approach the flowers. Each flower sounds a different tone, allowing visitors to trigger a variety of audio combinations.

Corson is the signature artist, but he said 15 separate companies were involved in the design, construction, engineering and installation of the display over the past two years.

The flowers’ stems are metal pipes that disappear into concrete bases poured up to 12 feet deep underground.

The project’s $300,000 cost was covered by Seattle City Light’s “Green Up” program, in which ratepayers voluntarily pay a little extra on their bills to promote the use of renewable energy sources.

In daylight, the translucent red petals of the flowers appear to light up as sunlight shines through them.

Corson even threw in a puzzle: Alternating green and orange bands on the flower stems are arranged to contain a bar-coded message — and Corson refuses to give hints about how to figure it out.

“It’s not easy,” he warns. “They’ll have to do a little sleuthing.”

Corson said he drew inspiration for the art piece not just from the quest for renewable energy but also from Seattle’s “eye-poppingly amazing garden culture.”

Corson, 49, is a former member of the Seattle Arts Commission who enjoys creating pieces combining art and architecture. He may be best known locally for “Wave Rave Cave,” built under the Alaskan Way Viaduct in 2002. It’s a cavelike area in which gravel-covered waves can be lit by colored lights at night.

That piece will be demolished when the viaduct comes down, he said. In contrast, Sonic Bloom — a joint project of City Light, Seattle Center and the Pacific Science Center — is intended to be permanent.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or

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