The Importance of Integrating Art within Architecture

For well over ten years I’ve been working with architectural practices heavily involved in the delivery of public buildings. Equally, I’ve worked alongside visual artists working on community projects. Although I’ve witnessed a few collaborations between the professions, I do wonder why there hasn’t been more importance placed on developing such partnerships, particularly in designing schools and hospitals. One obvious answer is the need to reduce building costs. Limiting or completely removing arts budgets is common. This I guess is an economic answer but how different is art to architecture when they serve the same purpose in the public realm? Some of you may have heard me discuss this at length but I invited my guest blogger Livingstone Mukasa, Founder and CEO of Archibility, an online portal for the sourcing and outsourcing of architectural and design services, to provide an additional perspective on the importance of integrating art within the built environment.

Integrating art within the built environment.

Livingstone Mukasa
Livingstone Mukasa

Mankind’s instinctual desire to decorate habitants has been with us for as long as the need to have shelter. This creative process has, from time immemorial, given meaning to built spaces. Architecture, sculpture, and painting once belonged together. Indeed, they were admirably intertwined at various points in history—in the ancient cultures of East and West, and in the European Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque periods. It is only during relatively recent times in human civilization that the separation of art and architecture has taken place.

The Decline

When the architectural discipline began to align itself with the fields of science and technology, determined by functionality and rationalism, poetic, spiritual and humanising qualities were discarded as unnecessary. The modernist movement generally rejected everything that did not meet the demands of structural necessity or material functionalism. The idea that the building itself, through its shapes, relationship between solids and voids, became the art work, necessitating the elimination of any artistic expression applied to or incorporated into the building.

This lack of art in architecture contributed to the visual poverty and impersonality experienced in most 20th century cities around the world. The modernist trend helped create visual deficiencies of the environment in which we live. Particularly regrettable was the uninspiring appearances of school buildings, a misfortune still present today. Interest in art should be encouraged at an early age and a visually stimulating environment is of crucial importance in a place that serves the early development of personality and value systems.

Another contributor to the demise was economics. Buildings became real estate that often trades hands for money, as are paintings and sculptures. The rules of standardization began to apply, leaving little room for expressionism. Today, it is rare to find architecture, art, and sculpture united in any but the most tentative way.
The inability of mainstream modernist architecture to establish a more humanised environment gave rise to the postmodern movement. The eclecticism of this movement attempted to counter the alienating abstractness of modernist architecture — among others — by means of reintegrating imagery, ornament, colour and various visual art and craft practices into the architectural design.

An Awakening Emerges

But what started out as a powerful critique of the shortcomings of Modernism, quickly lapsed to the level of a fashionable style, more concerned with the production of a striking image that would enhance the building’s commercial value, than with the creation of artistic beauty and the celebration of poetic, subliminal qualities. These qualities — universally admired in the most magnificent structures of the past — have clearly become marginal pursuits in mainstream architectural production of the present.

Today, many urban environments are perceived to be alienating and even hostile, while most public buildings project an authoritative, inaccessible, or at times dehumanising image. Contemporary architecture benefits immensely from artistic content. The use of art helps create a humanising, scale-giving and psychologically benevolent factor. Also, the vast majority of people never see original paintings and sculpture in an art galleries or museums. This provides substantial reason to equip public buildings with art.

Given the architectural discipline’s established alignment with the `hard’ rather than the `soft’ sciences, and the absence of serious research and verifiable data about the effects of art on the users of buildings, the necessity of art is often given little consideration among clients, local authorities and even architects. The separation of art and architecture in mainstream architectural practice and training is moreover conspicuously out of touch with the recent shift towards more interdisciplinary teaching and research in most other academic fields. Art is no longer taught and not generally presumed to be an integral part of architecture — neither among architects, nor among the general public. Most often architects blame either the cost factor for the absence of art in their buildings, or the negative attitude of an unsympathetic client. Artistic adornment is perceived to be expensive and inessential.
A wide range of artistic embellishment, however, cannot only be achieved at very low cost, but its execution can also easily be performed by virtually untrained craftsmen. Costs for such projects are thus hardly excessive; they could be motivated for on the basis of job creation and skill’s development and built into the project budget for community engagement and training.

The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Centre

One outstanding example of this integration is The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Because hospitals are often accessed only during times of crisis, the design of the building and the integration of artworks specially created for the Bloomberg Children’s Center is integral to the mission of the institution, which seeks to bring comfort and healing to both the pediatric patient and their loved ones. The Bloomberg Children’s Center serve as a blueprint for other facilities interested in adopting a similar approach. Working together, the team from Johns Hopkins, the architecture firm of Perkins + Will, landscape architects from Olin, along with consulting architect Allen Kolkowitz, and art curator Nancy Rosen, worked together with over 70 artists to create a state-of-the-art medical facility and featuring more than 500 custom works of art. The project was a tremendous opportunity for this diverse professional to work collectively using their broad vocabulary to create something unique. The architects had to learn to allow the artists a certain freedom and integrity to express their art in the architectural space. And the artists had to learn how to incorporate elements into the architectural core that integrate rather than explode out. Working together, they all became parts of a complex chorus.

The Ever-Changing Language of the Colour Alphabet

The collaboration is clearly visible, even miles away. Covering almost the entire exterior of the building in a seamless bond is a massive and intricate multi-colored work of art by Spencer Finch. Each panel of the shadowbox-like work is made out of two layers of glass through which shines one of Finch’s color alphabet—a carefully distilled palette of 26 shades—with blue as the dominant color—inspired by Claude Monet’s Impressionist landscape paintings and Finch’s visits to Monet’s studio outside Paris. The result is a shimmering exterior that captures the light of the sky, allowing the building to change in sync with the environment, establishing it as a natural and inviting presence. While the glass and color accentuate the curves and dimples of the building, its transparency beckons the community.

Artistic Wayfinding

Robert Israel artwork
Robert Israel artwork

The art and design of the Bloomberg Children’s Center also has practical functions. Spencer Finch’s palette for the building exterior is composed primarily of a range of blue tones. The presence of the colour blue is used throughout the interiors—in all of the elevator lobbies, along the patient floors, even on the walkway of the bridge that leads into the building, immediately letting visitors know that they are in the children’s section of the hospital or on a path towards it. There is a unique work of art in every one of the twelve elevator lobbies, each inspired by a different book. This idea of linking reading and healing continues throughout the building’s reception and waiting areas and along its main circulation routes. As patients and visitors navigate through the building, they will discover unique works of art that become memorable landmarks that help with way finding. Setting the Stage with Playful Sculptures The airy bi-level lobby and its four-story atrium reinforce the feeling of accessibility and openness that permeates the building. When considering how artworks could enliven these entry spaces, curator Rosen proposed reaching out to set designers. In the natural course of their activities, these magicians of the stage are experts at dealing with active, populated spaces, and are thoroughly accustomed to working collaboratively. Based on a series of enchanting concept sketches, stage and set designer Robert Israel was brought on board. Rather than just filling the space, Israel’s work transforms the area to continue the sense of delight sparked by the shimmering glass of the building’s exterior. Swimming above the broad stairway that connects the ground floor and the main level lobbies is a family of giant puffer fish. And suspended beyond the main level information desk is a flying cow with a nine-foot wingspan, heading towards a ring of the 28 phases of the moon. Just outside, a very colorful huge rhinoceros, with a baby rhino on its back, both built out of block-like cubes, stands at over 20 feet high at the entrance to the Bloomberg Children’s Center’s Emergency Department. The craggy, uneven pavement at its feet is evidence of its weighty stature and rootedness in the community. Israel did not get to see the final building before he designed the sculptures. He worked with architecture plans and models and tried to figure it out.

Every form of Architecture ought to be an Art

In many parts of the world, where the encouragement of more accessibility to art and the promotion of cultural self-expression have high priority, individuals from local communities are given the opportunity of getting involved and collaborating with the architect on the artistic embellishment of the new building in their midst. This is a scheme easily adapted. Themes for art works — be they murals, mosaics, relief works, or sculptures — can be generated in community meetings. Local narratives can provide specificity to broader and more general themes and issues, allowing the artwork to become a focal point of shared memories or aspirations. People thus become active producers of the building rather than passive consumers and the process of engagement may contribute to public responsibility, ownership, and the prevention of vandalism. Artistic decoration is also the easiest way of involving the future users of the building — who might be children — hands-on in shaping their own built environment. Art can describe a building’s function; it can imbue a space with a spiritual quality; it can visually enlarge a space by creating an illusion; it can confer status; it can demonstrate wealth; it can convert a neutral space into one suited for a particular ritual; it can ascertain claims about a building’s owner or users; it can establish links between cultures or attempt to recover values of the past; in short: art plays a vital role in shaping a building’s identity.

Architecture is not the making of an exquisite object for the select few, but has a much broader function in society. Human beings have a fundamental need to experience their existence as meaningful. In this context the ability to identify with one’s environment — be it natural or built environment — provides a sense of belonging. Architecture often falls short of providing this sense of belonging, of truly capturing the genius loci. Art can play an important role in this regard, because it is more accessible and can be experienced on a more immediate, emotional level, thus allowing people to relate to a building through art. Art must once again be understood to be an integral part of architecture, as it always has been until fairly recently. Only when architectural students are taught that art is part of architecture just as plumbing or wall finishes or landscaping, will budgets be established accordingly and architects will not be forced to `hide’ costs for murals under the codes for paint or landscaping. The general public, from which clients emerge, can hardly be expected to revise their established understanding of architecture if professional architects themselves do not understand the integral unity of art and architecture. The challenge lies with the educational institutions to revise their curricula and reappraise the role of architecture and the role of the architect in society.

LeCorbusier, the famed modernist architect who represented a movement to integrate art and architecture once said: “You employ stone, wood, and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces: that is construction. Ingenuity is at work. But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good. I am happy and I say: ‘This is beautiful.’ That is Architecture. Art enters in…”

All architecture has the potential to reach that state. And any architect, planner, or designer working in collaboration with the owners or the public, can do what Corbu is describing.

My thanks to  Livingstone for providing this entry. For further information on Archability  please visit

The Other Art Fair London April 2013

Sculptor Eva Wilkinson surrounded by her work
Sculptor Eva Wilkinson
surrounded by her work

There’s nothing better than attending an art fair to focus the mind, encourage you back into the studio and create artwork. I was privileged to attend the opening of the Other Art Fair at Ambika P3 in London last night. I was impressed by the variety of work on show. An array of fine art, photography, sculpture and even tattooing!

The first Other Art Fair at the Bargehouse in November 2011 showcased the work of 80 of the UK’s best artists and attracted 4,300 visitors over three days. In May 2012, The Other Art Fair moved to Ambika P3 in Marylebone with the hope of making the experience of the inaugural fair even better. Staged in May and November 2012, both events saw a continuation of art sales and opportunities for exhibitors. Ambika P3 I believe is the setting for the show in October this year.

It was good to see familiar faces including Debut Contemporary artists Elizabeth James, Toni Gallagher and Damilola Odusote exhibit and I congratulate them. Their work was outstanding as per usual but I was equally impressed with the art of others including Eva Wilkinson. Eva explores the theme of domesticity and confinement through using repetitive, monotonous and laborious processes such has hand-sewing to create sculptures which are simultaneously dark and humorous. She uses recycled and household objects to create the structures very quickly whilst placing more emphasis on the surfaces which mostly or fully hide the original sculpture altogether. She avoids using colour in her work, preferring to focus on texture.

Rachel Ann Stevenson with 'Loveless Bird'
Rachel Ann Stevenson with ‘Loveless Bird’

Rachel Ann Stevenson provided very intriguing work, combining taxidermy and fine art sculpture to produce some very arresting pieces. I particularly liked “Loveless Bird’ which seemed to represent opposing character traits of a woman who appears strong, stern and independent but secretly vulnerable and exposed like the small mouse incased in the exhibit.

Rachel’s work represents, as she states “… the delicate smoke and mirrors between the conscious and the unconscious mind; distorting the fabricated glare of social order for a vague realism where we allow ourselves to be absorbed into the familiar comfort beyond the gloaming; inviting peace through the jolting madness of a lucid mind, where the dreamer can unveil their fears, dreams and desires; the past and present mixed as one, we roam free unbound by the isolation of society or actuality; within our dreams we confess the truth to ourselves. “

Also exhibiting was award-winning artist Maria Mari Murga. A graduate of Barcelona School of Arts and Design, Maria pursued her studies in Florence, Italy where she specialized in the Renaissance Old Masters painting techniques at the Angel Academy of Art. I liked seeing a replica of her “Men at your feet” limited edition sculpture that cleverly uses her charcoal drawings of male nudes to coat a single stiletto.

The show runs from 11am to 7pm today and tomorrow and 11 to 6pm Sunday. I thoroughly recommend this art fair if you’re in and around London this weekend.If not, I hope you have a great weekend whatever you do and wherever you are!

For details please visit 

In Prosperity Our Friends Know Us. In Adversity We Know Our Friends.

Hi everyone. I hope you’re all well. This last year has been a very telling one regarding how genuine, supportive and professional some people really are. I guess like everyone else I have to experience things that surprise, annoy and frustrate.  Life does present a variety of situations that not only test our character and resolve, but make us determined to be happy and succeed in life. The economic climate  has lead to a tough period for most. Directly and indirectly it seems to strain the dynamics and priorities of society. The ability and opportunity of moving forward is massively improved by the key relationships we form personally and professionally. I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine of twenty years. He kindly emailed me something he read that sums up our views. I thought to share it as truer words were never spoken. This is quoted from a third party so I will attempt to find the correct source to give credit were it’s deserved!

The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve.Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity.An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people.As you grow, your associates will change.Some of your friends will not want you to go on. They will want you to stay where they are.Friends that don’t help you climb will want you to crawl. Your friends will stretch your vision or choke your dream.Those that don’t increase you will eventually decrease you. 

Consider this:Never receive counsel from unproductive people.Never discuss your problems with someone incapable of contributing to the solution, because those who never succeed themselves are always first to tell you how.Not everyone has a right to speak into your life.  You are certain to get the worst of the bargain when you exchange ideas with the wrong person. Don’t follow anyone who’s not going anywhere.

With some people you spend an evening: with others you invest it.  Be careful where you stop to inquire for directions along the road of life. Wise is the person who fortifies his life with the right friendships. If you run with wolves, you will learn how to howl. But, if you associate with eagles, you will learn how to soar to great heights. “A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.” The simple but true fact of life is that you become like those with whom you closely associate – for the good and the bad. 

Note: Be not mistaken. This is applicable to family as well as friends.  Yes…do love, appreciate and be thankful for your family, for they will always be your family no matter what. Just know that they are human first and though they are family to you, they may be a friend to someone else and will fit somewhere in the criteria above.”

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”…………………..Colin Powell

The Iron Lady – Was She Good For Britain?

Maggie Thatcher with Nelson Mandela
Maggie Thatcher with Nelson Mandela

Ok, this is a blog primarily about the arts but  art exists and often reflects  the politics that surrounds us! Politicians come and go and it’s not the first time a British Prime Minister has died. However, few undoubtedly make as much of an impact in politics as Baroness Margaret Thatcher who passed away from a stroke last week.

This is important to highlight for two reasons. Firstly, I have been supporting the Stroke Association and trying to raise public awareness of the condition since I discovered that one in three people are likely to suffer one in their lifetime. 150,000 will have a stroke each year. One third will die, a third will be left with a life changing disability and a percentage will make varying levels of recovery . Statistically stroke kills more women than breast cancer and remains the major cause of adult disability in the UK. For further information on Stroke please visit in the UK  and in the US or the World Stroke Association

The second reason I decided to say something about the former PM is the fact I was born and grow up in Thatcher’s Britain. There will always be a divided view regarding her legacy and whether she was ‘good’ for Britain. The recent celebrations and partying on the streets of Brixton, Bristol and Glasgow would suggest she won’t be missed! With a Grenadian background, I was keen to read the coverage of her death from a Commonwealth perspective, particularly remembering her position on the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

The following article has been taken from Caribbean

Thatcher and the Caribbean
Caribbean people, like the rest of the world, have been expressing mixed views of the legacy of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died on 8 April.
This ambivalence was summed up by Jamaican-born British MP Diane Abbott, speaking during a special House of Commons tribute session two days later.
“I’m happy to pay tribute to her historic significance and her historic role, and I know that history is written by victors,” she said. “But those of us who came of age in the Thatcher era know that there was another side to the glories that Conservative MPs have spoken about.”
In fact, there were as many highs and lows in the Iron Lady’s relationship with the Caribbean as in her dealings with bigger nations. After the 1983 US invasion of, or intervention in, Grenada (depending on which Caricom nation’s viewpoint you take), Mrs Thatcher recalled that she received a call in her room at the House of Commons from President Ronald Reagan at a time when she was “not in the sunniest of moods”.
 The US had not informed the UK, even though the Queen was also Grenada’s head of state, that its troops were to land on Grenadian soil.
 Caribbean Intelligence© has checked archives in the Reagan Library, now shared with the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, which indicate that Mrs Thatcher took President Reagan’s phone apology for not letting her know in advance with relatively good grace.
She told the US leader that she knew about the “sensitivity” of such military operations because of the Falklands War and responded: “The action is underway now and we just hope it will be successful.”
President Reagan explained that the Grenadian landings had been “going beautifully” and that the two airfields and the medical school had been secured.
 He went on to say that some combat forces were not Grenadian but “led” by  “senior” Cubans, who had been captured.
 Mrs Thatcher replied: “Well, let’s hope it’s soon over, Ron, and that you manage to get a democracy restored.”
 The two went on to discuss the Caribbean backers of the US forced landing. President Reagan had the support of the leaders of Jamaica, Dominica and Barbados for the operation.
In their phone conversation, Mrs Thatcher described then Dominican Prime Minister Eugenia Charles as “a wonderful person”.
In response, President Reagan said: “She certainly is. She’s captured our city by storm. She’s right up on the Hill meeting with some of our Congress right now.
“And then, [Tom] Adams, from Barbados, we are getting him up here. We’ve got both of them on some of our television shows so they can talk to the people. We are getting him on, we’ve had her on. He’s a remarkable man also.”
Mrs Thatcher then went on to describe Barbados’ Prime Minister Tom Adams as “a very cultured man and very wise”.
However, according to Richard Aldous, the author of Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship, she later told the Irish premier: “The Americans are worse than the Soviets… persuading the governor [of Grenada] to issue a retrospective invitation to invade after they had taken him aboard an American warship.
Mrs Thatcher is also famously remembered in the Caribbean for her clash with the rest of the Commonwealth over full sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
In 1985, then Commonwealth Secretary-General Shridath Ramphal of Guyana had called for sanctions.
 The British Prime Minister stood against the majority of her fellow Commonwealth leaders, saying that full sanctions would not work.
Her view of sanctions as an attack on free trade and against Britain’s economic interests have been closely documented by the British and African media.
She agreed to limited sanctions at a Commonwealth meeting in Nassau in 1985 and continued to hold out against full sanctions.
When questioned at a news conference in Australia about being one against 48 in the Commonwealth on the issue, Mrs Thatcher responded in characteristic fashion.
”When it is one against 48, I’m very sorry for the other 48,” she said.
 But her pugnacious style eventually proved her undoing when it became clear in 1990 that she no longer had the backing of her own cabinet.
Reuters news agency reported that she wrote in her resignation letter: “I can battle against adversity or against external hazards that regularly hit our country, but not against the lack of solidarity of my own peers.”


Has anyone seen Yara Caroline Tshallener?!

It was fun catching up with a few friends and fellow artists last night to start the weekend. Part of the conversation was about financing your art career especially in this economic climate. It reminded me that, over a year and a half after the disappointment of cancelling a London show, I have yet to hear from former gallery owner and artist Yara Caroline Tshallener. You may recall from a previous blog post, Yara received payment from several artists for exhibition space during 2011. Unfortunately they did not get the chance to exhibit because the gallery was closed under questionable circumstances. Furthermore, artists have yet to receive compensation from Yara who remains undercover. I doubt whether we will see Yara again but if you do be on your guard!!