Missourians Are Making It Rain (Literally) at 'Cloud House'

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Never mind Kansas City's plethora of world-famous fountains for a moment to admire an attention-grabbing public art installation/water feature in Springfield that takes a unique approach to rainwater harvesting. (Photo: Tim Hawley)

Both comforting and curative, the sound that light rainfall makes when it hits and rolls off of metal roofing is one of Mother’s Nature’s most potent aural analgesics. Even just the thought of cozying up indoors — warm blanket and hot beverage recommended — against a gentle soundscape of cling-clanging and pitter-pattering is enough to send most of us into a lulling haze.

This is all said, lucky are those who live in Springfield, Missouri. Although the city is known for its wildly varied weather, residents of this Ozarkian cultural hub — storied birthplace of Route 66 and deep-fried cashew chicken — needn’t necessarily wait for the skies to open up or for actual precipitation to occur to experience the oh-so-soothing sound of raindrops dancing atop metal roofing. They can just head down to the city's largest farmers market.

Officially dedicated on Earth Day 2016 but enjoying a secondary wave of attention (hat tip to Dezeen) is conceptual artist Matthew Mazzotta’s rain-producing, relaxation-inducing interactive installation, “Cloud House.” A permanent fixture at Springfield's Farmers Park, “Cloud House” is perhaps the most unique public water feature to ever grace the Show Me State — quite the feat in a state that's biggest burg can claim bragging rights as the "City of Fountains." (Indeed, Kansas City boasts more working water sculptures than any other city in the world with a grand total of 48.)

Essentially a rainwater-harvesting fountain that takes form of a corrugated metal roof-topped shack complete with an artificial cumulus cloud-cum-reservoir hovering above, “Cloud House” might initially sound more complicated than what it is — a public place to come and unwind in a rocking chair for a spell as a (simulated) rain falls above.

Cloud House by Matthew Mazzotta
The cartoon-ish resin cumulus situated above 'Cloud House' starts sprinkin' when the gabled shack's chairs start rockin'. (Photo: Tim Hawley)
Cloud House by Matthew Mazzotta
Visitors to 'Cloud House' can feel free to nibble on the edible greens grown in the installation's two windowsill planters. (Photo: Tim Hawley)

Here's the catch: It’s entirely up to the public to actually make it rain at “Cloud House.”

When the gabled pavilion’s pair of built-in rocking chairs are set into motion by visitors, pressure sensors hidden beneath the floor are triggered and water is pumped from an underground rainwater cistern into the piped-supported cloud/reservoir — a fluffly, oversized showerhead made from resin, essentially — positioned directly above the structure’s tin roof. Commence a nonstop chorus of pleasing pitter-patters. And when Cloud House’s rocking chairs go still due to inactivity, so does the “warm pleasant sound” of rainfall overhead.

“Cloud House” also functions as a place to seek respite when it’s really raining outside. After all, Mazzotta's homey kinetic sculpture celebrates and showcases the blood pressure-alleviating music produced when rain meets rooftop. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the rain itself is recycled or not.

"Any water that hits the roof — from either natural rain from the sky or rain that has been harvested into the storage tank, and then brought back up to the cloud again — will be collected in the gutters hidden in the eaves of the roof,” Mazzotta tells Dezeen. “It’s a very concealed system.”

As for the stray raindrops that aren't captured by the gutters, fed into the cistern and eventually recirculated through the cloud and back down again, they conveniently drip into a pair of windowsill planters filled with edible plants. The planters, like the entire structure itself, are constructed from barn wood salvaged from a nearby abandoned Amish farm. And when Springfield goes through extended periods of low or no rainfall, “Cloud House” will also stop raining to help, as a press release puts it, “illustrate our dependence on the fragile natural systems that grow the food we eat.”

Cloud House by Matthew Mazzotta
'Cloud House' offers a 'meditative moment to slow down, enjoy the fresh edible plants and listen to rain on a tin roof.'. (Photo: Tim Hawley)
Cloud House by Matthew Mazzotta
Reliant on a cleverly concealed rainwater harvesting system, 'Cloud House' itself goes dry during periods of low or no rain. (Photo: Tim Hawley)

With a “look and feel” that offers “the epitome of a rural farm experience from simpler times,” Cloud House serves up a heaping portion of food for thought alongside the chill vibes.

Says Mazzotta, a graduate of the Visual Studies Masters of Science program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose previous works include transforming a blighted Alabama home into an open-air theatre with seating for 100, powering park lamps with dog poop and staging a roving dinner party titled “Harm to Table” that showcases locally in-decline ingredients:

For years, grocery stores have provided food that relies on large agro-conglomerates with unsustainable farming practices, international food distributors, and chemical companies. Many people have demanded that we have another relationship with our food that focuses on personal health, the health of the planet, and supporting local community. However, the changing climate has brought a new threat of increased instability to our food systems by creating unpredictable weather patterns, which we are seeing as more drought in some locations and more floods in other locations. This makes it harder and harder to grow food. It is becoming increasingly important that we have a clear understanding of how closely we are tied to ecological systems like the water cycle. CLOUD HOUSE offers a moment to sit in a rocking chair and listen to the rain on the tin roof to reflect upon the fragile dance we are in with nature and our own survival.

Given the message behind the work, the presence of “Cloud House” at Springfield’s Farmers Park couldn’t be more perfect.

Cloud House by Matthew Mazzotta
The signature cloud above 'Cloud House' functions like a massive showerhead with rain being collected and reused as part of a closed-loop harvesting system. (Photo: Matthew Mazzotta)

The signature cloud hovering above 'Cloud House' functions like a gigantic showerhead as rain is collected and reused. (Rendering: Matthew Mazzotta)

Not an actual park per se but a bustling, LEED-certified mixed-use residential development located in southeast Springfield near the interchange of U.S. routes 60 and 65, Farmers Park is anchored by Farmers Market of the Ozarks, which was established in 2013 as the region’s first permanent, year-round farmers market pavilion.

Boasting dozens of vendors and concessionaires, the market — the largest of its kind in Springfield and environs — is a bustling one-stop-shopping destination for produce, fresh-cut flowers, meat, dairy products, baked goods and artisan handicrafts all produced within a 150-mile radius of Springfield. The market is also playing host this May to the inaugural New Food Conference, a Walton Family Foundation-sponsored event that describes itself as a "regional local food conference focusing on technology, funding, marketing and education geared towards building the local food industry across the Ozarks region."

Outside of its centerpiece farmers market, the Farmers Park development includes rental apartments touting “upscale luxury living,” community gardens, a farm-to-table restaurant and numerous standalone retail businesses like a blow-dry bar, creperie and waxing salon — businesses that are decidedly not the “epitome of a rural farm experience.” With a population just shy of 160,000, Springfield is a big and diverse town and you’ve got to keep everyone happy.

What’s more, Farmers Park hosts a range of arts- and fitness-centered programming; Mazzotta's work was sponsored by the Farmers Park Artist Residency Project. It's safe to assume that during the quieter moments, between all the ag-centric commerce, community-building and pursuits of personal care, “Cloud House” — a “poetic counterpoint to the well-attended market” — is the place to be for anyone seeking a quick, meditative recharge.

And as far as fountains go, for those who prefer commanding equestrian statuary crisscrossed by shooting jets of water and roaring manmade cascades over recycled rain gently trickling from a fake cloud and hitting a tin roof .... well, there's always Kansas City.