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:
AT THE OUTSET:
- 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.