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Architecture and Art Intersect for Better Outcomes

New York City pioneered the integration of architecture and art. For some 30 years, the Percent for Art program, managed by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, has allocated one percent of the budget for City-funded construction projects to public art. Diverse artworks range from painting to lighting to sculpture, and new technologies that are integrated into infrastructure and architecture projects around New York.

The importance of architect-artist collaboration was recently discussed in depth at “AR(T)CHITECTURE,” a panel discussion organized by the AIANY Global Dialogues Committee. Architects and artists alike challenged the notion of clear boundaries between the place where architecture stops and art begins. Projects included everything from chairs and construction fences by Studio Dror to building facades by Henning Larsen and Olafur Eliasson, to art installations by Seher Shah (who joined the conversation via Skype), public art installations by INVIVIA, and a floating river pool by Playlab.

Without question, these collaborations underscored the notion that art and architecture are symbiotic. High-quality art and architecture adds environmental, economic, and social value to the places we live. It also shows how architecture can foster user interaction; people don’t even have to enter the building to be inspired by it. Together, architecture and art create something more than the sum of their individual parts.

Architects from other countries, who were represented on the panel, have much experience to contribute to this dialogue. In Denmark, the integration of art and architecture is built into the educational process. Danish architects study at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts, which was founded as The Royal Danish Portrait, Sculpture and Architectural Academy in Copenhagen in 1754. This strong tradition of collaboration between architects and artists continues today.

Art for public buildings in mandated by a national law that puts aside 1.5 percent of the construction cost of any new public buildings for art – preferably artistic works that are seamless with the architecture, not simply added on.

In that spirit, Danish firm Henning Larsen architects designed Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Center in Iceland. The “art” component is a multifaceted glass façade, a close collaboration with renowned artist Olafur Eliasson. The façade changes with the daylight, creating a dynamic artwork that varies with the modulation of light and shadow. Here, architecture and art are fused.

Harpa’s blend of architecture and art created a strong identity for the building and give new life to an isolated urban wedge along the waterfront. It forms a new public space to galvanize the community. While existing art programs (1% for public buildings in New York, and 1.5% for public buildings in Denmark) are a great start, we should not stop there. We should push to integrate art into our daily practice of design for all buildings: public and private, small and large.

Louis Becker is design director and principal partner at Henning Larsen Architects, a global firm with seven offices that is headquartered in Copenhagen. He designs cultural and educational projects, among others, all over the world.

Event: Ar(t)chitecture
Speakers: Dror Benshetrit, Founder, Studio Dror; Archie Lee Coates IV, Founder, Playlab; Seher Shah, Artist; Louis Becker, Principal, Henning Larsen Architects; Allen Sayegh, Principal, INVIVIA; and Wendy Feuer, Assistant Commissioner, Urban Design & Art, NYC Department of Transportation (moderator)
Organizers: AIANY Global Dialogues Committee
Sponsors: Stone Source