Art by the Numbers at the University of Washington

Mad Campus is a unique public art project that was installed across the University of Washington’s Seattle campus last fall. Twelve emerging artists were invited to create temporary, site-specific works inspired by outdoor locations across the campus. MadArt Seattle, which conceived the project, asked Studio Matthews (Seattle) to devise an identity and wayfinding system that would visually connect the disparate installations and create an overall experience.

Though MadArt specializes in art in unexpected places, Mad Campus presented a unique challenge, as the 12 works were executed at vastly different scales and in locations scattered all across the university’s 700-acre campus. The budget was tight and the challenge--for both the artists and Studio Matthews--was to do a lot with a little.

The resulting wayfinding is a bold, playful numbering system with multiple purposes. It captions each piece and serves as a beacon to guide visitors to each artwork, whether it’s a 28-foot-tall inflated cowboy or a delicate mobile suspended in a grove of trees. Perhaps most importantly, the numbers signal to passers-by that each work is one of a larger series. Each sign displays a map of all 12 artworks, and each map is a little different than the others: the works remain fixed but the lines connecting them vary, as it’s possible to wander campus any way you like and still “connect the dots” between all 12 works.

In Red Square, the large bricked plaza that sits at the heart of campus, the same map is repeated on a massive scale as a temporary floor graphic. It has a certain “Twister” board game quality. Like the circle signs across campus, the big numbers were punched through so that the surrounding landscape becomes part of the signs themselves.

The signs were fabricated from white Sintra, cut to shape and direct-printed. Three different sizes were used, with a range of mounting hardware depending on the challenges of each site: some were hung with cables, many sat on thin steel posts, and several strapped to tree trunks.

Mad Campus was partly supported by the University of Washington’s School of Art, Art History and Design, where Kristine Matthewsis a faculty member. Designer Katherine Wong is a recent graduate from UW’s Design program. Studio Matthews is currently working on the campus-wide wayfinding system for the university.


Client: MadArt Seattle

Location: Seattle

Design: Studio Matthews

Design Team: Kristine Matthews (director/ lead designer), Katherine Wong (designer)

Fabrication: Trade-marx

Photos: Cassie Klingler, Hart Boyd 

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