New SFPUC Building is a Reservoir of Art
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New building will feature artwork by nearly 100 artists including two major site-specific installations powered by wind and water by local artist Ned Kahn
SAN FRANCISCO, June 20, 2012 – In addition to being one of San Francisco’s greenest buildings, the new Public Utilities Commission (PUC) headquarters at 525 Golden Gate will also be one of the city’s most artful. Through San Francisco’s percent-for-art ordnance, the LEED-Platinum headquarters, along with several other PUC building projects, generated approximately $1.8 million in art enrichment funds for a robust public art program that will be showcased on each floor of the new building. *Please note: the full collection will be fully installed by mid-July and only three floors will be accessible to the public during the PUC’s open house events on June 21 and 22.
“The Arts Commission’s Public Art Program has assembled an exceptional collection for the PUC’s new headquarters, one that is reflective of the agency’s rich history and the diversity of ecosystems and residents within its extensive service area,” stated Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny. “The artwork will impress viewers both inside and outside of the building.”
Bay Area artist Ned Kahn was selected to create two permanent installations for the façade and the lobby of the new building. Kahn is widely regarded as a master of creating mesmerizing works of art that harness the power and unobservable force of natural systems such as wind, water, fog and light.
“From the outset, Ned Kahn’s proposals for the new building were no less than awe inspiring. We were especially drawn to the way his artworks communicated the magnificence and mythic properties of wind and water. He was the perfect match for this project,” recalled PUC Director Ed Harington.
Located on the façade of the wind turbine support tower, Kahn’s Firefly is a lattice of tens of thousands of five-inch-square, clear-polycarbonate panels that are hinged so that they can freely move in the wind. During the day, the ever-changing wind pressure profile on the building appears as undulating waves. At night, this movement is converted into light. As the wind presses the hinged panels inward a small embedded magnet connected to an electrical reed switch triggers the flickering of tiny LED lights. The lights are colored to mimic fireflies which are a threatened species due to their dependence on riparian ecosystems. The entire sculpture requires less energy than a 75-Watt light bulb.
In the same way that the Firefly installation is intended to blur the boundary between the exterior facade and the earth’s atmosphere, Kahn’s Rain Portal, located inside the lobby, seeks to permeate an interior architectural wall with rain. Drops of water falling inside of an undulating polycarbonate membrane suggests the endless cycle of evaporating and precipitation.
According to Kahn, “One of the paradoxes of the Rain Portal is that much of the entire history of architecture can be viewed as the endeavor to keep rain out. Here we have invited it in.”
In addition to the artworks by Ned Kahn, Jill Manton of the San Francisco Arts Commission curated a collection of 357 two-dimensional artworks, including painting, drawing and photography, from approximately 100 artists/and or art galleries within the PUC service area. Working closely with Director Harington, she selected 150 photographs culled from the PUC’s extensive archive of more than 125,000 images dating back to the 19th century. Manton carefully selected images based on specific themes including: scenes of nature within the Watershed system; the building of the Hetch Hetchy Railroad; historic images of the construction of the original dam and the new Water System Improvement Project and heroic portraits of large-scale equipment.
Installed on all 13 floors of the building with particular emphasis on the areas most frequented by the public, the two dimensional collection also features cityscapes, landscapes, seascapes as well as images that reflect the cultural diversity of the PUC service area. Included in the collection are works by such notable artists as: Robert Bechtle, Chris Brown, Debra Bloomfield, Carmen Lomas Garza, Walter Kitundu, Hung Liu, Paul Madonna, Clare Rojas, Owen Smith and Dugald Stermer.