Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Warren of Cubicles and Some Civic Art

The building is humming. Cubicles are being assembled on level 4. I can already tell that every floor is going to be jammed with people and I've had to rearrange two of my sign language text walls because now desks will be positioned in front of the very walls that appeared open on the plans just two months ago.
Almost seven hundred city employees are moving into this facility in June from a half dozen different locations in Houston.I just reread an article about this project that was published in the Houston Business Journal over a year ago. City council approved the purchase of this 86 year old rice warehouse in March of 2009 with the intent of consolidating departments in a fully 'green' building. Happy to say, the building is currently tracking for gold LEED certification.
The city made a good call, opting to rehab an existing building. How often does Houston even think about using or reusing what is already here. We are so inclined to raze a site and get a start anew. However, the city chose differently. Not only is a good use of funds, but the city sends a strong message about the importance of recycling and sustainability. On that note, the facility will also house the city's Green Building Resource Center (GBRC) where the public can explore ways to build and live 'green.'
So, now that I've given the context for this building project, the cost of which totals just over $23,000,000, I'll talk more about what took place today on behalf of the civic art component in this facility. BTW, by city ordinance 1.75% of the construction budget of a public building is dedicated to public art. That number becomes my budget. In another month, when the building opens to the public, you'll see that Houstonians got tremendous bang for the buck.
This afternoon, several of us met with Kaneem Smith who is creating a fanciful sculptural piece made with hand sewn columns of recycled burlap coffee bags.
She is stitching and painting on these bags and they will hang in clusters in the open space between two large corrugated air flow ducts in the main lobby.
Kaneem's piece could be seen as an unusual choice for this public space. However, it offers recycling and repurposing messages that we consider an important aspect of the public art in this building. We know Kaneem's work is also going to be approachable, touchable. Folks will want to interact with these brightly colored floating columns.
Today, JB gamely climbed up on a ladder to show the rest of us how a column or two would hang. We agreed that placement of almost two dozen columns would have to done 'in the moment' of installation. So the hardware that does into the ceiling to hold each floating column will happen as we watch and direct the installation piece by piece. A good decision. Can hardly wait for June 9 when all this will take place.
Next I met with Robynn Sanders who will paint the intricate flowing text, using recycling words in five different languages spoken by Houstonians. The work speaks to both Houston's cultural diversity and to the universal theme of 'going green.'
I've been collecting translations for a while now. I found the translators through word-of-mouth (is there some sort of pun there?) and discovered that each translator was honored to play a part in this project and to have their community represented in a City of Houston building.
A lesson here. We widen our circle by inclusion. Houston is one of the more culturally diverse cities in this country. In a small way, a wall of text wall will celebrate this fact in a very public building.
Aggie Eyster's etched metal panels are now all installed in the 'meet and greet' reception center on the north side of the lobby and at the lobby security desk. They look terrific and there is nothing like her work here in Houston.
Dean Ruck and Dan Havel's assemblage is almost completely installed. I see workmen standing in front of it. I hope they are marveling at its baroque creativity.
So that was it for civic art on Wednesday.
Much more to come next week when five installations will get underway. And then we'll wrap them all in plastic to shield from dust and move in scuffs.

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