Open Conference Systems, National Conference on the Beginning Design Student

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Public Art in Design Education
Sandy Litchfield, Carolina Aragon

Last modified: 2016-12-13


Although art and architectural design have, in essence, grown up together in the academy, they began to assume different positions in relation to their function in the late renaissance. At this time, architectural design, began to emphasize scientific and technical advancement over symbolic meaning.[i] Since then the function of art has evolved to inspire and arouse, question and provoke, intervene and break with convention, while the function of architecture and landscape architecture has evolved to accommodate physical and social needs, create space for habitation and solve problems using technical and aesthetic principles.

In the last thirty years, however, these distinctions between art, architecture and landscape architecture have become blurred. Artists have increasingly expanded their practice to become more contextual in site-specific and public art, while architects and landscape architects have ventured into making more conceptual work like urban interventions and speculative fictions.[ii] As this cross-pollination takes place, several pertinent questions emerge for educators: In what way does contemporary art theory and practice develop and expand our pedagogical approaches to design education? What do these new cross-disciplinary practices teach our students about the value of agency, agility and criticality? And finally, how does the autonomy afforded to art-making affect and influence the values of the beginning design student?

This paper will present examples of public art installations as part of the design education of landscape architecture and architecture students. Work includes introductory studio exercises for graduate and undergraduate students and real-world collaborations with faculty, including fabrication, implementation, and community outreach. Making public art teaches students how to engage with the community as it makes apparent the regulatory concerns over public and private spaces and elicits a wide array of responses from the public. In these projects students have the opportunity experiment with innovative material techniques while they develop an experiential understanding of complex site conditions that necessitate adaptive and agile design approaches.

In conclusion, this paper will consider the ethical values of art making, such as freedom of expression, social engagement, critical thinking, resourcefulness, and divergent thinking, in order to ascertain the importance of these values for young designers who will be confronting 21st century global concerns. It argues that architects and landscape architects must be educated to think like artists in order to imagine, invent and conceptualize new spaces and places through multidisciplinary collaboration. They must learn, not only how to interface with a broad spectrum of engineers, builders, contractors, planners and clients, but also how to be speculative thinkers, dreamers, philosophers and poets of space.

[i] Pérez Gómez, Alberto. Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1983.

[ii] Rendell, Jane. Art and Architecture: A Place Between. London: I. B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2006.