Skip to Content

Public by Design: Public Art in the Fenway Cultural District

Massachusetts College of Art and Design
March 19, 2015

How can public art energize a place? Is it important for public art to delight or provoke? Who are we as a community? By exploring those questions, this panel discussion spotlighted the Fenway Alliance’s Public by Design initiative — which aims to bring more public art to the neighborhood — and the role of architect as artist.

For the past three years, temporary, large-scale, site-specific public art installations by architecture firms and their young associates have provided the backdrop to the Alliance’s “Opening our Doors” fall festival. Perkins+Will’s Kim Poliquin launched the effort with ENfold, a 2012 installation featuring a luminous fabric ribbon that stretched across Evans Way Park. In 2013, Goody Clancy’s Rachel Hampton led Interlace, an interactive piece that asked visitors to weave their thoughts and ideas — literally — into a larger web. Jean Kim of Shepley Bulfinch created 2014’s Sparkle & Chime, an elegant and playful piece that encouraged viewers to listen, too. All three let visitors interact with a known place in an unexpected way, inviting participants to play in their city.

ENfold, by Kim Poliquin for Perkins+Will, in the Evans Way Park, Boston. Photo: J. Horner

What do architects bring to public art-making? There are straightforward benefits, such as familiarity with suppliers and materials, and detailing them for resistance to weather and human activity. Architecture engages multiple people in its making; these pieces offered that opportunity on a compressed timeline. All three architect-led installations danced between individual contributions and larger, collective gestures. Perhaps most profoundly, public art, like architecture, is a vivid act of imagination put into permanent form. Art and beauty and catalytic ideas are introduced to daily routines. Temporary installations bring a snap, a more open attitude toward new approaches. While architects are otherwise slogging through the slow pace of building, these fleeting one-day or one-month pieces offer a chance to energetically move the city forward. Temporary can pave the way for permanent.