Art and Architecture: A Marriage Made in Heaven

Location: Center for Architecture, 10.21.09
Speakers: Anita Glesta — Artist; Keith Sonnier — Artist; Craig Dykers, AIA — Senior Partner, Snøhetta; Roger Duffy, FAIA — Design Partner, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Moderator: Christian Bjone, AIA — Architect, SBLM Architects & author Art and Architecture: Strategies for Collaboration (Springer Verlag, 2009)
Organizer: AIANY Cultural Facilities Committee


Oslo Opera House, designed by Snøhetta.

Courtesy Oslo Opera House,

While many artists are attracted to the spatial presence of architecture and its language and scale, contemporary architects also seek the inspiration of art in their designs. Great works have resulted from collaborations between artists and architects, and Christian Bjone, AIA, showcases some of the successes in the recently published Art and Architecture: Strategies for Collaboration (Springer Verlag, 2009). Bjone breaks down the collaborations into seven different themes: art as framed by architecture; art in contrast to architecture; art and architecture with common motif; architecture appropriates form from art; art duplicating the scale of architecture; art singular in its temple; and art in conflict with architecture. These themes were recently discussed at a panel moderated by Bjone.

For Craig Dykers, AIA, of Snøhetta, close collaboration with artists has always been an important part of his firm’s projects. He avoids using art as decoration for the architecture, preferring to allow an open dialogue among artists, artisans, and architects. As early as the competition stage for the Oslo Opera House, artists were invited to collaborate. Artists were involved in the design of the building’s stone roof, which consists of a non-repetitive pattern with integrated raised areas, special cuts, and various surface textures. Textile artists helped design metal cladding elements, which were derived from old weaving techniques. American artist Pae White worked with digital images of aluminum foil transferred on to a computer-driven loom to create a stage curtain for the auditorium. Artisans who make musical instruments were consulted for the design of the auditorium. And Olafur Eliasson designed an installation in the entry foyer.

Roger Duffy, FAIA, senior partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, does not formalize the collaboration process with artists, yet his work with light artist James Turrell is central to the designs of the Greenwich Academy’s Upper School in Greenwich, CT, and the Koch Center for Science, Math & Technology at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. For the latter, he recruited an interdisciplinary team of scientists and artists, including Turrell, to offer input on the building’s design.

With a long list of successful partnerships, artist Keith Sonnier says, “It’s great to work with great architecture,” referring specifically to his lighting work in 1990-91 for the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) in Berlin, designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1968. Other notable commissions include “Route Zenith,” a neon installation in the atrium of the Pei Cobb Freed-designed Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, and the permanent outdoor neon installation that simulates the movement of highways at the Cal Trans Building in Los Angeles, designed by Morphosis. According to Sonnier, “dialogue with the architect is the reason the installation got made.”

Artist Anita Glesta produced a body of work in the U.S. and Australia engaging the public sphere. She began as a painter and sculptor but as her pieces grew larger, she expanded her reach. “Census,” a seven-acre intervention at the Federal Census Bureau Building in Suitland, MD, commissioned by the GSA Art in Architecture Program, was a collaboration with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Turf Landscape Architects. It uses a variety of numerical systems imprinted on walls, benches, and sculptural mounds. According to Glesta, “for over 2,000 years artists have been working with architects. There exists artist envy and architect envy. They attract and repel, like a couple in a marriage.”