A few years ago I was lucky enough to spend a few months living in and traveling around Australia, and people always ask me what my favorite part of the trip was. I went diving off the Great Barrier Reef,
I saw the sun set over the Indian Ocean
and stayed at a crocodile shaped hotel in the middle of Kakadu National Park.
The thing that I liked the most, however, was the way that art was woven into the public space and public infrastructure. Think about the millions of person-hours spent commuting every day. Now imagine yourself driving down the highway, which would you rather look at?
This a tunnel portal on the Eastlink freeway outside Melbourne. In the words of designers Wood/Marsh PTY Ltd Architecture, “Conceptually the desire was to create a large scale sculptural object that extended over the entire project… The integration of public art along the freeway helps to enrich the project and Melbourne’s urban fabric.”
The jewel-like panels of colored acrylic in these noise walls along the Eastlink Freeway are public art that is enjoyed by millions of people every year, and “the tunnel portals and bridge structures, draw directly from the master palette so that a concise and coherent outcome is achieved.”
To bring cohesion to the entire project, the hexagonal pattern of the slabs on this bridge mirrors that in the design of the tunnel portals.
The noise walls act as sculpture, public art…
and landscape art…all rolled up in one.
On the earlier Eastern Freeway Extension, the intention was to create “… a series of interconnected arcs that, read in series, form a complete architectural sculpture.”“The height and location of these shapes are positioned in direct response to acoustic requirements, the roadway and proximity of adjacent buildings and landforms.” The final contextual reading is with the landscape… ”The relationship of sculptural form and landscape provides a stimulating environment for passive activity away from and in contrast to the traffic.” Those same arcing forms are echoed in their work on the Tullamarine Freeway.
The Geelong Ring Road, also by Wood Marsh Architects, “draws from contextual references that reside in the landscape and character of the region. The horizontal datum of the planar fields, and the oxidized basaltic boulders, have provided the fundamental vocabulary for our [design]. We have adopted a taut, metal fence for the sound barrier walls, clad predominantly in corten steel. This finish, when oxidized gives reference to both basalt and the rich soil of the region. Typically the walls run in straight lines with subtle changes in direction to give a crisp finish to the sound barrier in contrast to the geometry of the road. Further highlights have been added through the use of brightly coloured acrylic. These elements form the natural punctuation marks that we see existing contextually throughout the region. Across the various sections if the road subtle changes are introduced to give a sense of place without compromising the sense of a continuous journey.
If that was your house, which would you rather look at, a gray concrete wall, or this?
And that, my friends, is what public art and landscape art are all about.