Monday, September 08, 2008

Infrastructure as Art

I found this link on a comic images blog that had some photos of Brazilian stormwater gutters that inject a bit of whimsy into the urban fabric, something that I certainly enjoy.

I don't know if this was a commissioned art project or just an extensive art graffiti undertaking. It reminded me of research I did on art bollards for a public plaza space that I was working on for my previous job. There was money in the budget for artist-created elements in the plaza, and at the same time there was a need for bollards to control circulation. Plus, maybe a unique bollard would catch the eye and keep cyclists from accidentally hitting it. Anyhow, here are a few samples that I found during a more recent online search.

I think with this sort of commissioned personalization of standard landscape element you get a couple of positive things out of it. First off, it helps to establish the identity of the location as someplace unique. The Baywalk Bollards in Australia certainly have become something that people photograph, sketch, and probably know well in the community as a landmark. Of course, there are over a hundred of them, so that scale of things certainly ratchets up the impression made. The second benefit connects more to community involvement, and it is predicated upon a certain development process that not only involves artists, but also community members. If you can get those people directly involved in producing objects that are part of the space that they will use, then they will have a personal connection to that place and are more likely to be protective of it. This can translate to spaces that are better maintained because of that sense of ownership. There were several projects at my last job where this process was brought to fruition. One of them was a playground renovation where local high school students created art tiles that were then incorporated into seatwalls and the paving.

I guess what I really like about the art becoming the infrastructure or vice versa is that the art does not become just an object in the space. It becomes a functional component of the space. Certainly as a designer, I want my design to be the thing defining the space, and the art should work with me, not against me. So, I guess the goal should be to either be the landscape artist yourself in the design or do your best to develop a constructive collaborative relationship with the artists involved as early as possible.

Where does the graffiti art fit into this? My favorite graffiti art by Banksy and others seems to have a dialog with the space where they have implemented it. But how would I feel if they decided to comment on my space I designed and add to it? Should I prepare for this? Should landscape architects purposefully create blank canvas spaces for such work? Is it even possible to do so? Can the spontaneity of graffiti be anticipated? That's probably a hard thing to do, but what about going back later to a space and responding to such things in a spontaneous redesign? That's one funny thing about landscape projects... that they end, but certainly the landscape keeps changing. Maybe the contractor gets a 2 year contract to keep plants alive, but the landscape architect may never be involved again once they sign off on the final punch list. I guess that's why some landscape architects and designers work more on personal estates and gardens where they can have this long term relationship. For the rest of us, it's just landscape architecture one night stands.

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