Artificial Moon of the Concrete Forest: A story about a symbol with many meanings

There is a construction site near where I live in Rosslyn, Virginia. An ordinary construction site with one exception, a moon sculpture, encrusted with LED lights, hangs over one of the cranes on the site. The moon flash various colors at different times, sometimes red, sometimes yellow, and sometimes blue, which I assume is referencing the saying “once in a blue moon.” It was always the first thing catching my attention on my way back from Georgetown. Despite its strange placement and ambiguous purpose, it only attracts minimal attention due to the fact that it is placed within a construction site. Also, consider the fact that Rosslyn is a commercial hub filled with busy commuters.

Yasheng Symbols

Though the moon did not attract a lot of media attention, I started to wonder the meaning behind the moon and what it meant to people in Rosslyn. I first tried to contact the crane company and I got nothing. Then I tried Google, still nothing.

One night, I approached some construction workers who were relaxing under the artificial moon in hopes to learn more about this elusive symbol. Three of them told me that they were not sure why the moon was there, yet they made it very clear to me that they did not like it. When I asked why, they speculated that the moon had something to do with Islam and that really bothered them.

Dumbfounded by how these workers were able to generate Islamophobia from this innocuous symbol, I became more determined to find out why the moon was put up there. A few months later, my friend sent me an article that explains the purpose of the moon. As it turns out, the moon was a temporary public art project and a brainchild of Brian Coulter, Managing Partner of Central Place developer JBG.1

Though I understood the origin and purpose of the artificial moon, it is still interesting to ponder what it means to different individuals.

In Martin Irvine’s essay, “The Grammar of Meaning Making: Sign Systems, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics,” he maintains that humans have semiotic competence, which enables us to understand that, “things can mean something beyond their materiality as things or the mere perception of what strikes our eyes, ears, and other sense organs.”2 Accordingly, based on our past experiences, the artificial moon, a signifier, hanging over the construction site convey  different significances to different individuals. To me, the artificial moon reminded me of an old song I heard when I was a child. The title of the song can be roughly translated to “Escape from the Concrete Forest”. The concept of an artificial moon floating between skyscrapers, AKA the concrete forest, is almost romantic to me. When I shared this with the construction workers that night, most of them laughed but one. He said, “that’s beautiful.” Our distinctive interpretations of the moon open up a window into our inner psyches. The artificial moon made me nostalgic, yet it is the manifestation of fear to some of these construction workers. The artificial moon, with accurate likeness to the real moon, through different layers of abstraction, creates distinctive symbolic significances.3

The moon was removed on July 24th as the construction of the north building was reaching at an end. Though the moon is gone, what it signified to people remains. It does not matter how the construction workers thought about the moon; they are free to make associations, even if others do not agree. I just hope that one day when they think about the moon, they will only recall the coolness of that night under the artificial moon.


[1] “Giant ‘Moon’ Part of Continuing Central Place Construction in Rosslyn.” – Arlington, Va. – Breaking News, Opinions & Community Happenings, September 29, 2015.

[2] Irvine, Martin (2016). The Grammar of Meaning Making: Sign Systems, Symbolic Cognition, and Semiotics. Communication, Culture & Technology Program Georgetown University. Page 2.

[3] Irvine, Martin (2016). Key Writings on Signs, Symbols, Symbolic Cognition, Cognitive Artefacts, and Technology Compiled and edited with commentary by Martin Irvine. Communication, Culture & Technology Program Georgetown University. Page 14.

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