City shade structure really a sundial |

City shade structure really a sundial

Amanda Hammon, Appeal Staff Writer
Darrin Berger holds a smal sun dial next to a large one which he designed shortly before Solar Noon on Friday, which is the Summer Soltace. The boulder directly behind him should be in the shade at that time which occurs at approximately at 1 pm pst. Photo by Brian Corley

It’s been compared to a cowcatcher on the front of a train, but the shade structure on east Carson City open space is actually a big sundial.

And the flat rocks situated around the Moffat Property shade structure aren’t just something to sit on.

“If you’re compelled to contemplate it, you could see it’s not a seat; it’s a point in time,” said Darrin Berger, the Hershenow + Klippenstein architect who designed the structure. “It’s not a cowcatcher; it’s a way of catching early and afternoon light.”

On Friday, the longest day of the year, the shade structure southeast of the Fifth Street and Edmonds Drive roundabout became a giant clock, albeit a slightly imperfect one.

The summer solstice was celebrated by ancient cultures, who built huge structures to commemorate the longest day.

It’s also the day a person casts his shortest shadow, and the day the sun sets farther from due west than any other day, said Keith Johnson, associate director of the Fleischmann Planetarium.

Berger, a Carson City native, designed the structure with its main beam in perfect alignment with true north and south, so the structure will always keep solar time. It’s designed to create shade and throw shadows at all times of the day, while the flat rocks around it offer a resting place.

The rock on the southern edge of the structure is the summer solstice rock. Friday at 1 p.m. — an hour off solar noon because of daylight savings time — the rock was engulfed in shadow. It’s an event that will occur only on the solstice as well as a few days before and after because the sun is slow in its journey south to winter.

“Look at that; it’s working,” Berger noted as the shadow crept over the rock.

Not that he really doubted it would work. Simple math, Carson City’s latitude and a few other well-known science facts lie behind sundials.

And while the shade structure won’t keep pinpoint time — “we’re not building rocket ships,” he quipped — he thinks the structure could serve as an educational tool for children to learn about the sun and sundials.

Other rocks — about 10 — on the site are positioned to capture shadows from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the solstice and from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. during the fall and spring equinoxes. Of course, the times vary depending on how local time is measured.

“The sun isn’t a perfect time piece,” Johnson said. “It runs ahead and behind (because) the earth in its orbit doesn’t move at a constant speed.”

As for what the structure looks like, Berger says its difficult to describe, “like trying to describe a Picasso.”

“It looks fragmented and pushed out of the ground, sort of like it cracked under the heat and pressure of the earth,” he said. “It’s interesting to hear what people will say. If we’ve provoked people, if they catch word of this and come here to see what it offers, then we’ve done our job.”