The striking Upper Plaza was designed for and exhibits the museum’s most monumental pieces of permanent sculpture, including a major early sculpture by George Rickey. The focal point culminating the entire 13,000-square-foot Upper Plaza is Lithos II, a “waterwall” created by Elyn Zimmerman. This sculpture not only is a representation of the geological striations of Birmingham itself, but also masks the traffic noise from the nearby freeway.
In this elevated area, the overall scale is much larger than the other two spaces, as is reflected by the oversized pergola and the larger granite pavers. Numerous large-scale pieces are accommodated without overcrowding one another, and the space was designed to support extremely heavy loads. Enclosing the north side of the plaza is the wisteria-covered pergola, whereas Lithos II stands to the east, not far from a doorway connecting the garden to the Museum interior through a handicapped accessible entrance.
Lithos II, a 1993 Zimmerman creation, is set in the curved wall of the Upper Plaza. The sculpture measures 12 feet high by 32 feet long and has a pool that extends 8 feet into the plaza. It sits in front of a backdrop of Leyland Cypress trees and is flanked on either side by seating. The monumental water wall and pool of textured granite was designed in a variety of colors and textures that recall in an abstract way geological formation in Alabama.
While visiting quarries during early visits to Birmingham, Zimmerman was intrigued by the stratifications on quarry walls. These bands of colored stone were deformed over time into various shapes and dramatic surfaces. Lithos II (lithos is Greek for stone) was inspired by these formations. The massive blocks of granite are overlaid with the flow of water that further animates the surface of the relief.