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Art Intertwined with the Built Environment // Eric Dernbach


There is an inseparable relationship between art and the built environment. Almost anywhere there are humans, art can be found intertwined with buildings and streetscapes. Art is something that can be mixed in with architecture and community and often evokes a response. Art can also bring humanistic aspects to an environment that can otherwise be cold or unfamiliar—and the great thing about art is it can be anything.


Street art often evokes more thought and emotion than a sculptural piece in the plaza of a civic building. From the book “Street Art, Public City,” Alison Young portrays the image of street art she passed everyday while riding on the Glasgow metro system, the letters read:




These words are simply painted onto a brick façade, but instantly leave readers trying to decode the meaning—does it mean the artist has found a new love? Is it something illicit? Is it just gibberish? No matter the meaning and part of the reason why it was never painted over was because it evoked a response from a viewer. Young cleverly denotes this as situational art, it is something that is to be considered within its context. The simple six words help create a sense of place and familiarity—it builds upon the architectural environment that the viewer is occupying.


Graffiti and situational art, in an abstract way, can act as signage for a building—even if this ‘signage’ was unintended. Art can take form in other ways too. In Lawrence, Kansas the proposed 9th Street Corridor Project is an artistic streetscape project with the intentions of making the city more walkable, bicycle friendly, and to build upon the existing artwork occupying the city. A city that values art can use a project like this as a large piece of signage telling visitors about the city’s culture. Lawrence is a community that wants to portray itself as friendly and open thus a large Street Corridor project is to their benefit.


Art can also be incorporated in smaller ways than in Lawrence. The Design + Make graduate studio at Kansas State University is currently involved with a trellis project in Alma’s park and pool area. When budgets are tight or resources are small, art can help fill the design gap. Art, in this situation, can be the signage for the park helping to tie the late 70s pool house to the contemporary shade structure. Albeit simple, the signage becomes a connecting language. The design + make studio has controlled the design to this point, but the signage can reinforce community ownership over the shade structure. The signage can also incorporate a plaque in an artful way giving credit to community members that deserve credit for making projects like this possible. 


No matter where the art is or the type of response the artist desires—it can significant to the community. Art in addition to the built environment is an important component of place-making. In the end it doesn’t belong to the architect or the artist, but to the community.

LEFT: Small town art in Switzerland, creating a sense of wayfinding.

RIGHT: Small town art in Nebraska

Written by Eric Dernbach

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