Forum: How Do Sculptors and Architects Collaborate?

Over the last year or so, Sculpture has devoted considerable space to articles on public art. Beginning with this issue, that focus will broaden to reflect the growing sense of connection between sculpture and architecture. Artists who are also architects in their own right, artists who work in architectural forms, and architects whose buildings are strongly sculptural will be covered extensively in articles focusing on individuals and their work. In addition, the magazine will also look at the practical aspects of the sculptor/architect collaboration.

A look back in history finds sculpture and architecture joined much more closely than they are now. The Parthenon is now admired as architecture, but it was built as a setting for a sculpture that no longer exists. Michelangelo’s David was intended as part of the sculptural programme of the Duomo in Florence, but it is now viewed in isolation. Since the ’80s, the two disciplines have been moving closer together. The resulting works can be evaluated on their merits, but the process of collaboration is often hard to see or appreciate.

This article is intended to initiate an extended dialogue among Sculpture’s readers on the practical aspects of how artists and architects collaborate, on the collaborative aspects of public art, and on urban design and landscape architecture, which may include both buildings and sculpture in designing the public realm.

Even in listing these topics, it’s difficult to keep seemingly distinct disciplines from mingling. Is the product of such collaboration primarily a sculpture, however congenial its setting? Is it an experience of structure or public space, incidentally shaped by a sculpture? Or is the “work” the organic integration of art, structure, and space?

In looking at the practice of collaboration rather than the results, consider the following questions a “jump ball,” as in basketball, intended to get the action started but not to limit the field of play.

Is a successful building or public space compatible with successful art?

The practice of architecture and the practice of art traditionally emphasize the expressive or formal qualities of individual works. When two disciplines that value artistic expression attempt to work together, what kind of sparks fly? How are the conflicts resolved? Can they be avoided altogether? Does the work benefit more if the collaborators avoid conflict or work through it? Urban designers often see themselves as concerned with a type of space ignored by architects: the space between the buildings, not just plazas and parks but the “street room” formed by the aggregation of buildings that were planned separately to varying standards of aesthetics and utility. Are there any lessons from these projects that can be applied to sculptor/architect collaborations?

Are there meaningful distinctions between collaborations to create public art and collaborations in a private project?

How do artistic concerns fare in the public participation processes that may shape public art? Does the participation of civic leaders and the general public lead inevitably to design by committee? Or can public comments be aggregated effectively into a statement of public will that an artist can interpret as he or she would the specifications of a single client? Can difficult or challenging art survive a collaborative development process with its integrity intact? How is public space shaped differently by art of different types—serious or whimsical, figurative or abstract? Was this shaping effect anticipated in the collaborative design process? If not, did it affect subsequent collaborations?

Are sculptors and architects adequately educated for collaboration?

The “public design charrette” has become ubiquitous in urban planning as a vehicle for public input into the development process. Charrettes can bring together dozens or hundreds of stakeholders in facilitated meetings to provide input that will guide planners. Can this technique be used to guide sculptor/architect collaborations?

Where’s the dialogue?

The nature of urbanist/architect collaboration puts these professions in a broad dialogue over their different concerns, but there doesn’t seem to be a similar dialogue between the sculpture and architecture professions. The initiative that begins with this issue of Sculpture is one way to facilitate such a dialogue. What other steps might be taken?

Can collaboration be designed?

Perhaps there is one deeper question beneath all the others regarding art, architecture, and spaces: How can an effective collaboration be designed? How can people with very different goals work together effectively? Are there success stories, not just of results but of effective collaborative processes? How does the interaction change the work? For better or worse? Did collaboration dilute the artistic vision or take it in new directions?

Hundreds of years ago, modern science began to take shape as individuals collected and catalogued specimens of plants, animals, and minerals. Without knowing precisely where their work might lead, these early practitioners of natural history laid the groundwork for the systematic natural sciences of today.

If the desired end of this ISC initiative is a better working relationship between sculptor and architect, perhaps the place to start is by collecting specimens of effective collaboration: lessons learned from collaborative projects, however fragmentary; case studies of successful and unsuccessful collaborations, even when the lessons aren’t obvious; and successful collaborative techniques, even if they were hammered out in circumstances so unusual that it may not be obvious how to apply them in new situations.

Because sculptors, architects, and urbanists are professionals in their own disciplines, but not professional collaborators, there may be a rawness to the dialogue, a lack of norms and standards, probably no easy consensus. But that’s to be expected when the objective is to expand the map of a relatively new territory. Let the dialogue begin.