Public art is transforming the built environment into more activated, inclusive and beautiful spaces—and while the price tag can put a hole in developers’ budgets, there are some who are realising its true value.
“The universal best practice set by LGAs is 1 per cent of the construction costs,” UAP managing principal Owen Craven says.
They’re one of Australia’s biggest public art consultancy and fabrication businesses, commissioning and working with the such artists as Lindy Lee, Judy Watson, Emily Floyd and Callum Morton to produce large-scale works for developments across Australia and the world.
“Developers are becoming more sophisticated in meeting their requirements for public art. There may have been an initial reluctance under the legislated changes, but they’ve realised the benefits of public art in their spaces, and this concept is spreading to other parts of Australia,” Craven says.
“What clients are looking for is engagement, a sense of belonging, something that people can hold on to.”
Public art is blurring the boundaries between art and architecture as developers look to incorporate it into their design.
“Art can be immersed in the fabric of the building. We fabricated Alexander Knox’s artwork on Brisbane’s W Hotel facade by Shayher Group, and we also delivered a highly integrated work by Judy Watson around the lift core of the fjmt-designed 200 George Street in Sydney, which tells historical narratives of place of where the building sits,” he says.
“It’s all about what is right for the space, we spend a lot of time looking at the project, the site, and understanding the space and how people engage with it.
“What’s going to engage, attract, and build that sense of belonging?”
Craven says art can not only attract tenants and employees back to the office but help to create a sense of ownership in the space. Office tower owners are looking at building users’ wellbeing as part of the drive to attract tenants and employees back to the CBDs and anecdotal evidence points to public art as a vehicle for improved physical and mental health in its capacity to build community and connection.
UAP has partnered with Griffith University to develop Public Art 360, a world-first holistic tool to measure the impacts and benefits of public art.
Craven says while public art installations are measured for their foot traffic and economic value, this tool would incorporate user engagement, impact and benefits including storytelling, education and engendering a sense of belonging. “It’s capturing the quantitative and qualitative impacts of public artworks.”
While UAP creates some of the biggest art installations for the top end of town the materiality ranges widely from woodwork, murals, building facades, sculpture and integrated design.
Top Spring Australia managing director Sydney Ma says there is no question that “urban and public art contributes to a more vibrant social fabric, both for residents and the wider community”.
“Art celebrates place, creates a sense of identity and provides beauty and enjoyment beyond the private resident amenities and into the broader neighbourhood. Many councils, for this very reason, require developers to play a greater role in urban art investment.
“As a company we champion and celebrate art in all facets of our developments and we support this requirement.”
But commissioning artworks can, however, be a difficult and lengthy process to navigate.
“Each development requires bespoke artwork that responds to its surrounds, and this can take years to bring to fruition. So much so, that our approach to urban art begins in the very early design phase of each project,” Ma says.
“We’ve found it’s so important to work with the right consultants that understand the commercial requirements of creating and installing art on site, usually outdoors, and managing the creative expression of the artists. It’s a lot more than design, especially at a large scale.
“It’s a collective effort, well worth the community benefit.”
A design competition is currently under way for the internal and external art projects for the Ode project at Double Bay, while a solid copper sculpture by Jade Oakley has been commissioned for Munro House at Elizabeth Bay.
Aqualand managing director Jin Lin is also a strong supporter of art in the built environment.
The developer’s latest project, AURA in North Sydney, takes a sculptural form, imbuing an artistic flair in the Woods Bagot-designed $1-billion, 386-apartment tower.
Lin says art plays a “pivotal role in enhancing communities”.
“Through our projects and our arts sponsorships, Aqualand is proud to contribute to creating more vibrant, cohesive communities around Sydney,” he says.
“AURA by Aqualand will be a living sculpture for this special neighbourhood, a place of beauty inside and out. We eagerly await approval from the North Sydney Council for the beautiful Richard Sweeney public art piece we’ve commissioned. It’s important for us to continue giving back to the community long after the building is completed.”
Aqualand also supports Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi, and recently extended its partnership with the Art Gallery of NSW to include naming rights of the Aqualand Atrium in their new Sydney Modern wing.
A long-time champion of public art, City of Sydney mayor Clover Moore believes public art provides grit and texture to the urban environment. She says it plays “an enormous part in the life of any great city”.
And while the Sydney Council requires public artworks as part of any project worth more than $10 million, Moore says developers are now including public art as a matter of course “given the clear benefit to the built environment”.
And it’s a concept that is catching fire nationally.
Melbourne-based art and technology studio ENESS is helping to unlock and reconfigure public spaces using art.
Artist and founder Nimrod Weis says interactive artworks can create connections between people and place.
“In a way, public art is just like a garden in that it introduces a sensory element to concrete and glass expanses—it brings colour, movement and beauty to the built environment,” Weis says.
“It is deeply beneficial when public art is integrated into new developments from inception, especially when a sense of place is honoured.
“When public art is handled in this way—by being included in the DNA of a project—it means that the tone and progression of art of the time is matched with the architecture of the time.”
Weis says it can also be retrospectively incorporated in older spaces as a “really clever way of revitalising public space”.
Most recently ENESS created Waterbody (main image) at 1 Darling Island Pyrmont for Mirvac. The multi-disciplinary team of artists, musicians, software engineers and industrial designers using water as the central theme.
“We analysed and dissected notions of water within the context of Sydney as a place but also as a substance in and of itself,” Weis says.
“We then underwent the process of design, fabrication and install—which we do in-house. In total, the process took two years from conception to installation.
“The final artwork is a cross-section of oceanic and riverine imagery such as rippling harbour water and the contoured sand of beach and estuary beds; glossy lengths of kelp; salt-stained driftwood and the bones of fish and other marine life.”
The 30m installation has 90 segments with tens of thousands of LEDs encased in soft polycarbonate, like a frozen cross-section of a wave, and each individual aluminium segment is a custom form.
But it’s not just big installation artworks that dominate public art offerings in the built environment. Large-scale painted murals are cropping up on sites across the country according to artist Sheila Tan who works with other artists including Matt Adnate and George Rose to transform blank walls into engaging artworks.
Tan says navigating the commissioning process, acquiring the right permits and working on busy construction sites can be difficult to navigate.
Public art can inspire, divide, educate and enthrall. But the end result is always transformative.
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