By Rona Rothenberg, FAIA – 2022 AIA California President
Countless public agencies and jurisdictions as well as corporate and private non-profit organizations have or support art programs in architecture projects and in building programs. With funding models from an allocation based on square feet (based on anywhere from less than .5% to 2.5% or more of construction budgets allotted), thoughtful stewards of capital building programs incorporate art in architecture.
Surely it is a merit, a pleasure and a privilege for any of us involved in design and construction at any level to experience works of art in architecture which go back millennia (from mosaics, frescos and even paintings from antiquity) which have survived in churches from the Middle Ages, to contemporary and traditional works in public and private buildings (both large and small scale) and from extraordinary to modest. If you’ve experienced this in your work, as a tourist, a parent in a school or library or a traveler in an airport, you know that art in architecture can provide a sense of awe.
Among many outstanding art in architecture programs, the legacy program of the federal GSA sets the standard as a model for the procurement and creation of meaningful works which enhances the experience and use of buildings for which they were commissioned.
The federal program–like most other similar programs at a smaller scale–expresses contemporary thought and issues in a variety of media and forms, and in innovative ways to approach art and architecture for the public benefit.
The opening to the GSA Monograph “GSA Art in Architecture Selected Artworks 1997-2008” says it best, describing the purpose and effort of the program very much as the work is approached and teams are convened in other programs:
In the article “How Art Enhances Architecture,” Chapman Taylor describes how well-placed art can transform a space, turning it into something with a new meaning. This has been my personal experience. Having been involved with in many unexpected and totally memorable and satisfying building projects assignments which incorporated art as a corporate and public sector project manager.
In some projects, art was commissioned in direct coordination with the refinement of the architectural design details and then constructed or installed by or with the general contractors. In other projects, art was coordinated with a dealer or selected artist and framed, hung or mounted to complement exterior landscaping or interior design. With local governments, our project teams worked directly with the Art Commission during the design and construction phases for a completing integrated result, guided by experts and the users themselves. Experiencing the finished product stands out as a career highlight.
Having started my educational and professional journey as a student of fine art and then as a public school art teacher, the theme and value of art in architecture has come naturally to me. As we learned, becoming human through art and architecture–enhances teaching and creative thinking as well as the social, emotional, and spiritual life of communities.
Without question, this part of the work I’ve done as an institutional architect has been a joy in every sense. I hope in your work that you will be an advocate for incorporating art in every and any way possible that your clients, colleagues, governing statutes, or policies will allow, and that the result will make a difference to the people who use the buildings-and to you.