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Fire in the Landscape
A Look Into Sculptor Elena Colombo and Her Distinctive Work

Fire in the Landscape

The Bridge at Bethlehem Steel, designed by Elena Colombo, is 75 feet long and 30 feet high. Though this feature is installed in an industrial setting, Colombo states that her works can be applied for any location, including residential. A slot in the sculpture holds a specially designed 30-foot long burner that allows the flame to be viewed from above and below. The flame incrementally grows up to a height of eighteen inches. An exterior-rated electronic ignition system lights the burner, with controls located within the base of the structure out of sight and away from the public's reach.

Fire in the Landscape

The Cabo Twist is a 10-foot tall design, made of a corten steel vortex of branches. This twisted sculpture stands on a terrace at the edge of the Auberge Esperanza Resort in Cabo San Lucas.

We all know that fire is most commonly used as a heat source. In the natural environment wildfires spread, burning vegetation and destroying animal life in the process. Yet, the use of fire has evolved drastically over time as man learned how to make and control it. It is used as a tool to illuminate the night, and in the early days, humans used fires for rituals and to warn off predators. It serves other functions such as clearing land in agriculture, signaling, cooking, and keeping a home warm on winter nights. Fire is also used as entertainment in performances and events, and is combined with water to create art pieces.

With the evolution of fire usage, designers and builders, such as Elena Colombo, are completely transforming fire into state-of-the-art features that provide more than just warmth. They are creating masterpieces beyond the traditional fireplace that make you exclaim, "Wow, that is incredible! How do they do that and how can I get it!?" Well here is how...

Fire Features
Colombo's design and build firm, Fire Features, creates distinctive works including firebowls, markers and sculptures. Colombo works with both landscape architects and landscape contractors to design and construct her art. Landscape architects may look at the website and determine if they want something similar for their project, or Colombo might be asked to create something of their own design.

According to Colombo, because outdoor gas fireplaces and fire features are still relatively new, and there are many different ways that a feature can be hooked up, it is a good idea to plan the installation well in advance.

Fire in the Landscape

This Lotus Bowl is a rendering of what was later built at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens. It is four feet in diameter and is made of stainless steel. The wiring for the electronic ignition is as far as 200 feet from the feature itself.

Fire in the Landscape

This nest fire feature is made of welded branches caste of bronze. The 300,000 BTU natural gas burner is placed in the middle. A remote manual pilot ignition system is situated away from the nest in a control box.

Fire in the Landscape

This Firebowl is 68" in diameter with a lip, made out of mild steel. It has a side-mounted manual pilot ignition system, certified by OMNI-Test Laboratories. The feature has 300,000 BTUs and uses propane gas. A cross-shaped burner with a custom venturi air mixer is used for the firebowls, creating a yellow flame.

The Spirit of a Flame
Sometimes, there is more to a feature than just its functionality and aesthetics. Sometimes, something can be crafted for sentimental value, as a piece of art that represents the soul of a place. One such fire sculpture is the Bridge at Bethlehem Steel, commissioned by a nonprofit organization called ArtsQuest.

Colombo relates that the people of Bethlehem Steel "wanted a fire sculpture [there] that would represent that the steel factory was coming back to life, in a way." Not only does this fire bridge have a unique appeal, but it also commemorates the Bethlehem steel factory and its importance. A line of blue flames runs the length of the arc and represents the constant blue flames of the steel that was being poured when the factory was in use. On the manufacturers website, the Corten steel bridge is noted as "a physical and spiritual arc between Bethlehem Steel's past production of the country's most noted steel spans, and the future of the site as a revitalized cultural mecca."

A Destination Spot
Some fire displays are created to draw attention and attract people to a specific location. For instance, one feature that has become a destination site for photographs is the Cabo Twist, more commonly known as the Branch Twist. It is a fire and water sculpture designed for the Auberge Esperanza Resort in Cabo San Lucas. Situated on a terrace overlooking the Sea of Cortez, the location has become a popular place for people to gather and take photos at sunset.

The burner is mounted to a central hub, which has a two-framed structural steel base with the sculpture built around it. A hidden door is built into the branches in order to service the burner and ignition system. Colombo says, "the sculptural aspect protects people from the flame, so it kind of encloses the flame but you can still see it." The Twist Branch has become an admired feature with the tallest one to date located in Washington, at a height of 15 feet.

Fire in the Landscape

These three fire displays are located in a koi pond on a Florida residence. A vertical burner was placed inside the hollow of vines known as Strangler Vines. These vines are cast in bronze and weigh thousands of pounds.

Fire in the Landscape

Stainless Steel Seagrass is made of vertical stainless steel rods that are interconnected. The seagrass can also be applied as an insert in a fireplace or as a isolated piece on land or water.

Fire at Home
Elena created her first firebowl using a repurposed garbage can with a simple burner and propane gas, which then became a signature feature for her company. Colombo remarked that the firebowl is a great standard feature to have in the home, because it allows the homeowner to engage in a more "communal activity" with access to the house.

A homeowner in Florida decided he wanted something unique featured outside his home, so he connected with Colombo. After exploring the possibilities, he and Colombo agreed to a project. In an interview with LASN, Colombo explained the process. There are vines called Strangler Vines, which grow around a tree and with its larger foliage, cut out the tree's light. The tree starves of light and eventually dies. For the project, Colombo and her team took the tree out from the vines so that inside was hollow. They then cast the vines in bronze and put a vertical burner inside the hollow. These fire features stand in a koi pond filled with fish and lily pads.

According to Colombo, a fire feature favorite is the bronze nests. Colombo related the story about how one of her clients had a really old cherry tree that had to be taken down because it was dying. The client was very sad about her cherished tree and so Colombo's team cast some of the branches of the tree and made a nest for the client.

Fire in the Landscape

Fire in the Landscape

Indoor or Outdoor, Why Not Both?
Many projects are incorporating fire features that can be enjoyed from both sides of a wall, such as this Indoor/Outdoor Tunnel 200 located at a residence in Los Angeles, Calif., designed and installed by Ortal Heat of Canoga Park, Calif. It is a two-in-one system with a 160 burner and a sealed window to the outside. Such 3-dimensional displays can include amenities like a television or piece of art. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ortal USA, Photographer Erika Bierman

Fire in the Landscape

These three fire displays are located in a koi pond on a Florida residence. A vertical burner was placed inside the hollow of vines known as Strangler Vines. These vines are cast in bronze and weigh thousands of pounds.

Fire in the Landscape

The Outdoor Greatroom Company's 56" Linear Black Wave Gas Burners are made of high quality stainless steel with onyx tempered fire glass gems. This custom-built fire pit has ignition controls and gas valves to adjust the flame height, and it runs on natural gas or house liquid propane. A glass wind guard protects the user from the flame.

Burners and Accessories
Selecting the right burner style and size is important when you want to assemble a fire pit because the burner will determine the width, height and shape of a flame. There are several options for burners including linear inserts, rectangular h-burner inserts and round and square inserts. A linear insert can produce one line of flame for thinner designs and a rectangular burner can make a wider, dual linear flame. For a campfire effect, round and square burners may create a taller flame and use less fuel than a fire ring.

There are many manufacturers of fire pit burners, some of which also provide accessories for fire pits, and those include fire media, remote controls and added features.

The new Hearth Products Controls smart phone app allows you to turn the fire pit on or off, and set the flame level or timer, at the touch of the screen. The app also has the ability to control multiple fire pits depending on the size of the renovation. To ensure best performance, the smart fire pit has sensors.

There are various types of burners than can be applied for fire features. For instance, the burners provided by RoundGrove Products, are combined with artificial logs of two different types of wood and in three different sizes. Solus DA(C)cor states that they use brass burners aEUR" not anodized pan metal burners so they can provide a longer warranty. Their brass "top side" burners mean that the fire is projected up and out and does not lose heat out of the bottom, so they promote that their products can be used on wood decks unlike other products that have heat being directed into the bottom.

As seen in LASN magazine, January 2018.

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April 25, 2019, 1:31 am PDT

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