Cowles Commons replaced the existing Nollen Plaza, which was built back in the 1970s on one city block in the heart of downtown Des Moines. The only items to remain from the original Nollen Plaza were seven red oak trees and the Crusoe Umbrella Sculpture from Claus Oldenburg and Coosji VanBruggen. As part of the project, the Crusoe Umbrella was sandblasted and repainted to its original color.
The site is broken into three separate areas. The north grove has standard sidewalks and multiple planter areas with cast stone benches, the original oak trees and the Crusoe Umbrella. The red carpet area is a large paver zone (approximately the size of a football field) with black and red granite pavers along with red clay pavers. Within the red carpet area is a 3,200-square-foot interactive water feature that is 0.5-inch deep and features 17 water nozzles that spray varying heights and are accented by 56 color changing led lights that run on a synchronized program with the fountain.
At the south end of the red carpet, a large light sculpture from artist Jim Campbell was installed. The sculpture is approximately 90 feet long, 18 feet wide and 26 feet tall. It is a stainless steel structure with over 32,000 color changing LED lights that are programmed to show various low-resolution images around the sculpture.
The south grove consists of planter areas similar to the north grove. However, a “peace” theme is used throughout this area as the cast stone benches have various famous peace quotes set into them. All the trees and plantings are new in this grove, and the sidewalks are an exposed aggregate colored concrete along with some pervious paving areas as well.