The Intersection of Design and Public Engagement
“…as you play in this garden please try to remember we’re all in this together…” – Lawrence Halprin
Revolution in the Landscape: Re-experience the Halprin Fountains was a two-hour long 2014 Design Week Portland event. Seven design teams, including two student groups, were invited to create temporary installations along the Portland Open Space Sequence, designed by Lawrence Halprin and constructed between 1966 and 1970. Typography, color, image, form, light and sound converged for one magical, moon-lit evening to raise public awareness about this historic cultural resource comprised of four interconnected parks, fountains and civic spaces.
Almost 50 years old, the historical significance of Halprin’s seminal Portland Open Space Sequence is little known to Portlanders today. Halprin’s four plazas remain the city’s most internationally influential works of urban design and landscape architecture. At a critical time in history when civil unrest was brewing, Halprin changed the nature of public space by providing a place to gather and interact. Influenced by his wife Anna, a choreographer, he saw his plazas as theater sets for performance and “choreographing” human movement.
Project Brief and Communication Goals
The Design Week Portland project brief states that Halprin’s Open Space Sequence has been locally significant, launching a 50-year tradition of building theatrically interactive public spaces rooted in the forms of nature. Inspired by mountain streams and waterfalls, Halprin’s spaces were designed to promote playful interactions between people, water and architectural forms. The Portland SEGD group’s communication goal was to re-imagine a landscape where typography, color, image, form, light and sound converge to interpret these ideas for one night and re-activate the spaces for today’s audience.
The group’s other overarching goals were to champion the value of design in the public realm, promote public knowledge and stewardship of Portland’s public spaces, encourage interdisciplinary design thinking and collaboration and engage Portland’s next generation of designers.
The event began at the well-known Ira Keller Fountain, the largest, most visible and accessible of the sites. As groups gathered, they were given a short introduction about the purpose of the event and the route to each site. Visitors were directed to pick up a “glow ring,” thus helping to light up the night and become an active participant, moving “upstream” through seven temporary installations along a six-block route. In the spirit of the 1960s, when Halprin conceived the fountains and parks, participants became part of a “happening.”
Ira Keller Fountain – “We Are All in This Together” (Mayer/Reed)
A vinyl super-graphic on the pavement announced the event title and starting point as participants began the experience and moved upstream. Other vinyl pavement markings, employed as a choreographed wayfinding device, directed participants through the site, interpreting Halprin’s historically significant design. Mylar space blankets were used to create a vertical “water ribbon” that wound beneath the tree canopy along the landscaped perimeter berms. The reflected patterns of movement and light from the surrounding streets created a metaphor for Halprin’s interest in the relationship between nature and urban space.
Promenade 1 – “Words That Flow” (Portland State University, Graphic Design Department)
A river of typography flowed along the route to lead participants to the second site. Stenciled and hand-lettered chalk typography expressing river themes grew throughout the night as participants picked up chalk and added words, illustrations and patterns.
Pettygrove Park – “Dancers in the Park” (Sticky Co.)
Halprin’s wife, Anna, a passionate choreographer and dancer, influenced his designs. Inspired by this insight, Sticky transformed eight of Pettygrove Park’s lollipop lampposts into dancers. Combining wood, fabric and motors, each lamppost was adorned with a dress-like dance costume that twirled suddenly and spontaneously to the delight of passersby.
Promenade 2 – “Against the Current” (Pacific Northwest College of Art Digital Arts Department)
A series of four sequential digital projections along the path to Lovejoy Fountain featured animated characters and their humorous efforts to race upstream.
Lovejoy Fountain – “Perform,” (Second Story)
Technology and sculpture were used to highlight and extend the architectural features of Halprin’s Lovejoy Fountain without obstructing its natural beauty or preventing people from exploring it up close. Inspired by Halprin’s original vision—to create a civic space choreographed for artistic expression—the Second Story team focused on the idea of people as performers. How could we craft an installation that would invite visitors to direct an experience for the audience? How could we engage both the passive observer and the active participant?
Using the fountain as the armature, we created a luminescent string sculpture that extended the radiating geometry of the fountain and created a stage for interaction. Fluorescent string was activated throughout the night by strategically placed Ultraviolet and RGB lights controlled by attendees via a custom mixing console at the foot of the fountain. Six sliding interfaces invited visitors to direct focused beams of light, resulting in a continuously evolving interplay of color, shadow and structure. A sparse, textural soundscape accompanied the interaction and shifted in and out of focus in response to the changing light environment.
Although the installation was temporary, the impression it made was indelible. The Lovejoy Fountain Activation served as an exploration of the possibilities when art, technology and public space converge to connect people and place.
Promenade 3 – “Urban Nature” (Stefan Lesueur)
The river becomes a mere stream as it meanders through the mountain forest near its source. Soft white strands of yarn suspended from the tree canopy evoked rain, falling leaves and patterns created by nature in an urban context. These patterns highlighted the natural and urban relationship that is prevalent throughout Halprin’s sequence. Participants followed a narrowing, delicate path as they neared the water’s origin.
The Source Fountain – “Begin/End” (Gamut Arts and Third Angle New Music)
This quiet space, hidden from view, could go unnoticed. In this unassuming moment, it is hard to imagine the rivers, streams, mountains and cities that this water feeds—constantly moving, evolving and always connected. Completing the thought started at the Keller Fountain, one single line ends at the fountain with the word “Begin.” A recording of Halprin and his wife, Anna, echoed from speakers hidden in the landscape while a live violin player serenaded the crowd. Throughout the night, the lines between audience, participant and performer were blurred.
Collaborative Design Process
The event was produced by the SEGD Portland Chapter, which wholly defined the scope, goals and format of the project. The co-producers developed an event strategy including marketing, event circulation, design team selection, permitting and installation logistics. Each design team defined their strategy, concept and executed the solution.
Design teams were selected to represent a diverse range of perspectives and skills. Teams included landscape architects, multi-media designers, graphic designers, a fabricator, sound designers and musicians. In addition to the diversity of design disciplines, teams represented a range of entities including two student groups, two well-established firms, two recent start-ups, one independent designer and a non-profit.
The schedule, budget, and temporary nature of the installation posed the largest design challenges. The schedule required teams to work quickly with one week for concept design, two weeks for design development, two weeks for fabrication and one day for installation. All installations, equipment and trash were removed from the sites by midnight. Design solutions had to be easy to install and remove.
The event took place during sunset, posing challenges of changing ambient light. Designers considered the visibility of installations, projections, distracting light sources from adjacent parking garages and the safety of event participants, particularly at poorly lit locations. Design teams were encouraged to consider the environmental impacts of their work. Temporary attachment methods that would not leave a permanent impact on trees, fountains, lampposts, walkways and plazas were required. Printed material or takeaway pieces that created litter were discouraged.
A stipend ranging from $200 to $500 was provided for each installation. Design teams were challenged to find creative, cost-effective materials that could create grand gestures in the large spaces. All labor was done pro bono by the five design firms. Student groups undertook their installations as coursework credits.
The event was deemed a “high-risk” undertaking with regard to weather variables, short installation window and time commitment by the design teams. Public knowledge of the event was a further unknown: One could not assume that if the teams built it, participants would come. In the end, there were more than 200 on-line registrations for the free event. The nature of the event and spaces made it difficult to count the actual attendees, but 500 glow rings were picked up. The crowd included participants from all walks of life: students from elementary to high school and college age, homeless folks and the general public ranging from young adults to seniors. Many design professionals attended as well. While the event was not a fundraiser, several hundred dollars were donated to The Halprin Landscape Conservancy by inspired participants.
The evening was a warm October night, illuminated by a full moon. The spaces were filled with people wearing glowing rings, moving through the sequence, contributing to the theater of this “happening.” Some people simply watched while others engaged in unexpected interactions, pointing out details of the designs and sharing stories about the fountains. Moved by the installation at Lovejoy, a modern ballet dancer attending the event spontaneously broke into dance and performed for the crowd. Communications and awareness goals were met.
Participants posted photos and comments on social media sites Facebook and Instagram tagged with #segdpdx, #segddwp and #designweekportland. An example: “This city? This concept! You’re knocking it out of the park this week Portland. 10.17.14 one of the best parts of visiting Keller Fountain in near darkness and after the noise of heavy work traffic is the sound, the rush of the water thundering down. It was fascinating to watch people interact (or not) as well. I’m following the trail to neighboring parks!”
– posted by thepaulrudolph on Instagram
The event was a catalyst for the Portland Chapter of SEGD. In the chapter’s second year, the exposure of a Design Week Event raised awareness of the organization within the design community. The chapter’s ability to attract attendees, members and sponsors increased as a result of the successful event.
Event ProductionSEGD Portland Chapter: Kathy Fry (creative director/co-producer), Mike Hawks (executive director/co-producer), Julie Beeler (advisor)Ira Keller Fountain “We Are All in This Together”Design Team 1 – Mayer/ReedKathy Fry (creative director); Josh Carlson (river sculpture design lead); Liz Talley (graphic design lead); Teresa Chenney (lighting design); Debbie Shaw (interactive element design)Promenade 1 “Words that Flow”Design Team 2 – Portland State University, Graphic Design Department Alan B. Hernandez-A (lead designer), Nichole Worthington (designer)Pettygrove Park “Dancers in the Park”Design Team 3 – Sticky Co.Andrew Haddock (creative director)Promenade 2 “Against the Current”Design Team 4 – Pacific Northwest College of Arts, Animated Arts DepartmentErik Hoofnagle (creative director); Erik Hoofnagle, Dylan Jones, Maddie Loftesnes, John Summerson (lead animators); Jack Graydon, Nancy Guzman (assistant animators); John Summerson, Maddie Loftesnes (sound design); Micah Weber (lead tech);Teagan Wolfe (video documentation); Rose Bond, Laura Heit (faculty facilitators)Lovejoy Fountain “Perform”Design Team 5 – Second Story Laura Allcorn (creative lead), Chris Carlson (technical lead), Emily Boisvert (production lead), Adam Paikowsky (designer/fabricator), Chris Carlson (sound designer), Marc Lehman (designer)Promenade 3 “Urban Nature”Design Team 6 – Stefan Lesueur Stefan Lesueur (artist)Source Fountain “Begin/End”Design Team 7 – Gamut Arts & Third Angle New Music Ron Blessinger, Third Angle New Music (sound installation/performance); Jess Fry/Gamut Arts (designer/fabricator)
SEGD Portland Chapter; Mayer/Reed, Portland State University Graphic Design Department, Sticky Co, PNCA Animation Arts,
Three city blocks and four connecting walkways
$3,150 total stipend, design and installation pro bono
Ira Keller Fountain “We Are All in This Together”Michael Reed, Jeramie Shane, Mike Hawks, Margaret Drew, Joanna Schwartz, Lia Shaw, James Harrison (production/installation)Pettygrove Park “Dancers in the Park”Brandon Stump (coding, installation), Weston Wedding (installation)Lovejoy Fountain “Perform”Adam Paikowsky (designer/fabricator)Promenade 3 “Urban Nature”Bryce Willem, Keanu Narciso, Jess Fry (installation assistants)Source Fountain “Begin/End”Ron Blessinger, Third Angle New Music (sound installation/performance); Jess Fry/Gamut Arts (designer/fabricator)