Livening up Modernist architecture with public art

While recently taking an architecture tour in Chicago, I was intrigued by two scenes in the Loop: the Alexander Calder piece “Flamingo” in front of Mies van der Rohe’s Kluczynski Federal Building and the and Picasso’s sculpture in front of the Richard J. Daley Center. Here are the two sites:

ChicagoPicasso

CalderFlamingo

Both sites feature a similar set-up: modernist buildings on superblocks surrounded by large concrete plazas. On one hand, these could be dead zones as Americans tend not to like such spaces, particularly in cold weather or in the shade. But, introducing a little bit of color and disorder through the art compared to the repetition of the modernist buildings leads to a pleasing contrast. Both sculptures are tactile, particularly the Picasso one where kids were climbing on its lower levels. Americans tend not to not think modernist structures are worth of preservation or landmark status but it is hard to imagine these pieces of famous art working so well in front of different buildings.

Chicago does some interesting stuff with public art but I still wish more cities would engage in more projects like this in public spaces. What is there to lose?

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