Public Projects: Concept Development Strategy

As finalists for the public art component of Oakland’s UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Ene and I were recently asked to explain how we develop concepts. In over twenty years of making public works, we’ve never been asked to articulate our process, so I created an outline:


Public Projects: Concept Development Outline

OUR ROLE: Creating site-responsive artworks that foster place-making, landscape interpretation, way-finding, visual identity, invention and intervention, celebration, commemoration.

Developing a concept for site-specific or site-responsive artworks typically takes about 2-5 weeks, featuring our unique process, in roughly chronological order:


  • Define primary parameters, including site, budget, timeframes, audience, desired outcomes, etc.
  • Align our goals with those of key stakeholders.
  • Discover what to reveal, celebrate, or honor.FIELDWORK:
  • Site excursions and documentation, including areas surrounding sites and defining characteristics of surrounding community.
  • Social engagement: dialogue with the community, including neighbors, business owners, employees, clients, visitors and other key stakeholders; gather and composite oral histories.
  • Identify existing and potential community ‘use patterns’ for a particular site.
  • Observe environmental site conditions including wind, sun, rain, etc.RESEARCH:
  • Cultural: contemporary and historic patterns, trends and related demographics; vernacular traditions in the built environment and related ephemera.
  • Natural: patterns comprising prevailing weather, light, seasonality, local flora and fauna, present and past ecosystems and their natural history.
  • Future-forecasting into the near and distant future; aggregate economic and demographic trends for the site and its broader surroundings.FORM + CONTENT DEVELOPMENT/IDEATION:
  • Identify materials, structural systems, colors and processes appropriate to the requirements of the site and the story being conveyed.
  • Identify the prevailing narrative compelling the artwork.
  • Seek form/content congruity and mutual reinforcement.
  • Develop imagery or thematic “branding” strategies and concepts.PRODUCE MODELS AND PROTOTYPES, MATERIAL SAMPLES:

– Models and prototypes can be actual 3D scale models or computer generated illustrations and animations, but their multi-tiered function is to aid in visualization, presentation, engineering, and cost estimating for fabrication.