Friday, August 27, 2010

Beseiged by "Plop Art"

Today, I took my sons on a little tour of our new lightrail system here in Seattle. Most of the time, we just rode the train, but we stopped off at the most ambitious station on the line to have a good look around and take some pictures. It is a station that sits on a challenging topography in a location where the tracks are pretty far above the ground, and right next a freeway that is going up a big hill that curves around a bend. I've been watching this station since it was just earth, so it was interesting to see the finished product.
I spent a couple years of my career, as well as one of my studios in college, aiding in the design of light rail and monorail stations. I've participated in all sorts of things including functional and conceptual planning, 3d modeling, track-visualizations for an Environmental Impact Study, etc. I even had a 3d station model rendering displayed very large in an art exhibit at a museum in Canada. I have a great love and appreciation for this kind of architecture. It is one of the few kinds of architecture that is not inhibited by mechanical systems. There are wires and ducts, but since it is not an enclosed building, the rules tend to be a lot simpler. I love visible structure and stations are full of it - no need for drywall.
I don't have much to say about this station itself. It's about what it should be, I'm not in love with the roof, but it works. It's kind of a no-frills structure. It's easy to negotiate as a user, seems to flow and function well, I even like that parts of it are painted a very loud yellow (helps with the winter-drear).
The thing that drives me crazy about any kind of public works project is the public art. Seriously. In so many instances, I feel like it compromises the integrity of the architecture. I remember touring the Millenium Line of Vancouver's SkyTrain back in college. There are many impressive stations (google them if you're into architecture, you won't be disappointed) but only a couple had tasteful public art. Most of it was just tacky installations awkwardly hanging in odd places or plopped right down on the ground out front. I have no problem with 1% of the construction budget going to public art, but I wonder why it couldn't be more practical and integrated. I love the idea of using the money for some pretty glass. Have you ever stood next to or under Dichroic glass on a sunny day? It is stunning and memorable - even a little mysterious. Glass can have a huge impact on the beauty of a place, without compromising (or distracting from) the architecture. I have also seen some very tasteful wrought-iron fences right here in Seattle that were works by artists which served a purpose and beautified a location - King Street Center is a great example (even if the artist is the most egotistical guy I've ever met).
After you look at the above links, let me show you what I saw yesterday, and these three pieces were all at the same station:
This is the first piece I noticed while coming down the escalator. Umm. Huge drop of milk?
Hanging over the other escalator "foyer" was a giant molecule? I wouldn't dislike it so much if it didn't have all these goofy "memories" all over it. It said stuff like "...I remember when..." followed by some reference to what used to be around the location of the station. I'm okay with making a nod to the elderly people who grew up in the area, but isn't there a better way than on a giant, brightly-colored molecule? Furthermore, where is the cohesion with the giant drop of milk?Then upon going outside, we encountered this one. Is it an avocado or a guitar? Or is it a guitar-avocado? I am confused. I can tell you, though, that while my three-year-old son LOVES guitars, he was completely terrified to even go stand next to this thing, it was so giant.
Don't get me wrong, I love art, I love artists. I just think these kinds of pieces really junk up a nice, clean piece of architecture. Why clutter something that is so purposely-simple? What does it add? Looking at the above picture, though, can't you see how some nice built-in glass might have dressed it up appropriately while enhancing the experience of taking that escalator down to the ground? Maybe some sort of design in the form-work of the concrete might have been tasteful?
If I thought that anyone actually read this blog, I might ask for discussion, but for now, I'm just saying...
Still, I'd love your comments/opinions/experiences seeing atrocious or beautiful public art.

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