Harley (2014) focuses on how an individual, Becker, was invited by NDMOA and the Community Foundation to speak to Grand Forks community members about public art. Becker’s two key opinions regarding public art were that it can be a generator of “identity” for a community and that it “humanizes” cities. Becker’s perspective is that there are many examples of public art at the national, regional, and international levels, which act as generators of “identity” for communities at the mentioned levels. Based on this opinion, it is true that various countries or cities are easily identified by various monumental features, which to a large extent are perfect examples of public art. According to Becker, some examples of public art that identify various cities or countries include the Gateway Arch identifying St. Louis, the Eiffel Tower identifying Paris, as well as Paul Bunyan and Babe identifying Bemidji. The fact that the mentioned cities are easily identified by various monumental features, which are considered public art, gives insight into how art can be considered a generator of “identity” for a community. Further, as highlighted in the article, Becker argues that public art “humanizes” cities. In this case, the key perspective is that public artworks in various cities act as interactive sculptures that prompt humans into various actions such as writing notes on them or taking photos of them to share on social media. A perfect example of public art that “humanizes” the city in which it is located is a giant chalkboard in New Orleans, where passers-by are often asked to write what they want to do before they pass on. Another example is the light-up art installment at a movie theater in Minnesota, which has lights that change colors depending on where people touch a railing surrounding the art itself. In both examples, it is evident that public art influences or prompts humans into action, hence the argument that public art “humanizes” cities.
It is true that that many cultures around the world have specific architecture or artwork that are specific to them and are identified with the in one way or the other. For instance, the culture of Florence, Italy, is identified with Michelangelo’s public art known as “David.” David is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture and was created between 1501 and 1504 by a renowned artist identified as Michelangelo. It was created primarily to act as a representation of the Biblical hero David, which at the time was a favored subject in the artwork of Florence, Italy. Its official unveiling came on September 8 1504, and it was placed in a public square outside the Palazzo Della Signoria, which is the seat of civic government in Florence (Paoletti, 2015). Due to the nature of the Biblical hero represented by the statue, it is seen as a symbol or reflection of the defense of civil liberties in the Republic of Florence, which at the time was a city-state facing threats from surrounding more powerful states and from the hegemony of the Medici family. The public art itself had eyes with a warning glare, which played a crucial role in scaring away possible attackers or invaders thereby heightening the city-state’s security. Over the years, “David” has been one of the most recognized works of Renaissance sculpture, and as such, it is seen as a reflection of the civic pride as well as the identity of the Republic of Florence (Paoletti, 2015). The culture of Paris is also identified with a public art known as the Eiffel Tower, which is geographically located at the center of the city. The tower, which up to present remains France’s, and the world’s most iconic monument was constructed between 1887 and 1889 to act as an entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair held in France (Barthes, 2012). Today, the Eiffel Tower is one of France’s most valued monuments and is a significant tourist attraction site globally. In 2015, the tower was the most-visited paid monument in the world with 6.9 million people attending to it in that year. It is the highest tower not only in Europe but the world in entirety, and thus, it is seen as a reflection of the civic pride as well as the identity of France as a country (Barthes, 2012). In fact, many people especially artists identify France with the Eiffel Tower given that is one of the world’s most iconic and recognizable monuments despite being constructed in the late 19th century.
Although architecture remains the most exciting type of art, nothing in the art world can be compared to the ingenuity and art of designing supertall buildings commonly known as skyscrapers (Samer, 2007). The development of skyscrapers began in the US in the 1ate 19th century with the term itself being first applied to the first 10-20 story buildings that rose in New York in the 1880s. In the US, skyscrapers were constructed to serve two key historical functions, which included acting as symbols of America’s rising global, social, and industrial power as well as solving social and geographical issues that rocked America in the 1900s. One of the earliest skyscrapers in the US was the Chicago School constructed in 1884. The major engineers or brains behind the construction of the skyscraper include William Le Baron, Martin Roche, Dankmar Adler, and others. Some of the factors that led to the construction of the Chicago School include the disastrous fire of 1871, resurgence of civic pride, as well as the rapid expansion of the population of Chicago (Leslie, 2013). Designers of Chicago School invented a metal skeleton frame, which played a crucial role in the construction of the skyscraper because it was fireproof and enabled architects to use thinner curtain walls because skyscraper walls could no longer carry the weight of the buildings (Ali & Moon, 2007). The use of the metal skeleton frame also helped free up more usable space in the interior walls meaning that exterior walls could now be replaced by glass. It was followed by the construction of the Woolworth Building in New York between 1911 and 1913. Engineers of this building designed the steel frame, which was supported on massive caissons penetrating to the bedrock. The building’s upward thrust depended primarily on strongly articulated, which were carried without interrupting cornices right to the pyramidal cap. There has been a rapid evolution in the construction of skyscrapers because unlike early skyscrapers; modern skyscrapers are built using steel or reinforced concrete frameworks coupled with curtain walls of polished stones or glass. An example of a modern skyscraper is the Seagram Building in New York City constructed between 1954 and 1958. Like every other large building of the time, the Seagram building was built using a steel frame, which following American building codes was covered in a fireproof material made of concrete. Other materials used in the construction of the building included marble, bronze, and travertine, making it one of the most expensive skyscrapers globally at the time.
Many architects of the 20th century were commissioned to design private homes, which was in addition to commercial architecture. Architects who went against this include Frank Lloyd Wright who created the Fallingwater in 1937 and Robert Venturi who created the VannaVenturi House in 1961-1964. A circumstance that led to the creation of Fallingwater in 1937 was the apprenticeship and knowledge Wright received from Edgar Kaufmann Sr and the fact that people had Wright written off when it came to matters related to architecture. The design of the Fallingwater was greatly influenced by its location on a waterfall, which makes it one of the greatest architectural designs of all time. On the other hand, Robert Venturi’s creation of the VannaVenturi was a reaction against standard Modernist architectural elements (Palmon, 2002). Some of the building’s design that were in contrast to modern architectural designs include the pitched roof rather than flat roof, the emphasis on the central hearth and chimney, as well as a closed ground floor that was set firmly on the ground as opposed to the Modernist columns and glass walls that open up the ground floor. The building was located on a flat surface with a long driveway connecting it to the street, and this influenced the design of the house as the parallel walls of the house were placed perpendicular to the main axis of the site (Perez, 2010).
Ali, M. M., & Moon, K. S. (2007). Structural developments in tall buildings: current trends and future prospects. Architectural Science Review, 50(3), 205-223.
Barthes, R. (2012). The Eiffel Tower. AA Files, (64), 112-131.
Haley, C. (2014, Mar 14). Civil art ‘humanizes’ places, expresses identity, lecturer at NDMOA says. McClatchy – Tribune Business News.
Leslie, T. (2013). Chicago Skyscrapers, 1871-1934. University of Illinois Press.
Palmon, R. (2002). Houses undergoing psychoanalysis (Doctoral dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
Paoletti, J. T. (2015). Michelangelo’s David: Florentine history and civic identity. Cambridge University Press.
Perez, A. (June 2, 2010). AD Classics: Vanna venture House/ Robert Venturi. Archdaily. Retrieved online on November 14, 2016, from http://www.archdaily.com/62743/ad-classics-vanna-venturi-house-robert-venturi
Samer, A. G. (2007). Skyscrapers as tools of economic reform and elements of urban skyline: Case of the Abdali development project at Amman. METU JFA, 1, 49.