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Campus Public Art Programs

Part of Rice University’s Public Art Program, “Mirror,” designed by Jaume Plensa is located in the Central Quad. Micahel Heizer’s “45°, 90°, 180°” marks paths and emphasizes the space of the Engineering Quadrangle. The smaller-scaled “Monumental Barn Owl” by Geoffrey Dashwood presides over the Milus E. Hindman Garden.

by Audrey McKee

Campus public art is an invaluable asset, both to university communities and to the public at large. The University of Texas at Austin’s Landmarks and Rice University’s Public Art Program both feature successful public art programs that offer lessons for designers who seek to set up a series of spaces to lead pedestrians and visitors from here to there while having a meaningful impact on their experience. While architecture is often conceived as a series of sequential, adjacent, or arrayed spaces, public art is instead a series of objects that challenge, reinforce, and respond to existing paths,

Drawing on the success of campus public art at lending a more meaningful spatial experience to visitors, architects can broaden their design thinking. buildings, and routines. Art objects command the focus of the space around them, whereas a sequence of arrayed rooms may not exhibit a particular focus and consequently may not have such an impact on the viewer. Visiting the two campuses, one can readily see the effect of their art. Students, faculty, and visitors alike stop to admire, photograph, and occupy the art objects. The campuses, in addition to being institutions for higher learning, become large-scale, indoor/outdoor galleries that enrich their surrounding communities.

Both the UT Austin Landmarks program and Rice University’s Public Art Program place site-specific works into the campus landscape and interior spaces. The programs propose to challenge and inspire both the academic community and the general public. Drawing on the success of campus public art at lending a more meaningful spatial experience to visitors, architects can broaden their design thinking to consider the impact of the focal object as a moment in space. More than placing a sculpture in a room, this process encourages architects to define what is most important and meaningful in a given space — its focus. A particular condition of light; a perfectly framed view; the texture of a building material; or a threshold, edge, ledge, or path can all elicit powerful responses as art objects on display, bringing a singular focus to a space or series of spaces.

Campus art programs like Landmarks and Rice Public Art teach architects that the cultural and emotional effects of art are not simply reserved for museums, galleries, and sculpture gardens. Architects can harness this energy and re-imagine their spaces to perform as a sculpture would on a campus: commanding focus, stimulating dialogue, asking to be engaged. Spaces for objects may then transcend to elicit and capture the joy of objects in space. Audrey McKee is a designer, project manager, and cooffice manager at MF Architecture.


18 Texas Architect

11/12 2013

Texas Architect November/December 2013: Campus Architecture  

This issue explores the value of architectural diversity and creative responses to context. The discussion begins with a series on the three...

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