Frank Lloyd Wright Trust Presents ARCHITECT/ARTIST CREATIVE COLLABORATIONS Preview – Interview with Architect Mark Sexton

Editor's Note:  Picture This Post (PTP) recently spoke with Crown Fountain architect Mark Sexton (MS), about his work in public art with artist Jaume Plensa. An upcoming event and presentation by Sexton, entitled Architect/Artist Creative Collaborations, will occur October 2nd at The University Club, 76 E. Monroe St., Chicago, IL 60603.

PTP: What were your goals in designing Crown Fountain?

MSThe overall goal was to guarantee that Jaume Plensa’s vision for the piece was realized. Juame come up with the brilliant concept but had no experience in creating structures that size nor the complexity of the materials and systems that make up the fountain. Another overall goal was to make the fountain look easy, like it was no big deal, so that people could interact with it without being distracted with how it actually works. A bit like an iPhone, simple and easy to use yet, behind it, remarkable complexity.

What do you think its legacy is, over a decade later?

It is an amazing piece of public art because of how the people engage with it. We wondered how it would be accepted until the evening before it opened back in 2004 there was a small gap in the enclosing fence and a group 5 or 6 young people slipped in. They immediately ran through and were drenched by the water, all the while laughing with glee. On that night we coined the phrase, “no instructions needed.” Although no one has ever seem a fountain like this before it is amazingly understandable. It is unique because it’s design is minimal and unabashedly modern yet a total joy to interact with.

Why do you believe that public art is important to cities and communities?

Public art records the ideals, culture and the environment of the society in which it was created. It is a civic display of the value of creativity and many times an alternate view of the world. I am reminded by what John F. Kennedy wrote in 1962, “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.” Great public art is timeless because nourishment of the spirit is timeless.

How do you think the creation of public art is benefited through collaborations between architects and artists?
Both are creators and visionaries but with different frames of reference and experience. It is these differences that fosters innovation. In the case of the Crown Fountain, Jaume was amazingly practical and open to suggestions and modifications that were required to structure and construct the towers. Building design today is always produced by a team in a cooperative process because of the complexity of structure, systems and enclosure. As the scale and ambition of public art increases so will this vital artist/architect collaboration.

What do you foresee the future of public art to be? The future of architect/artist collaborations?

I see both technology, material development and deeper viewer interaction being the future of public art. The history of public art has been mostly visual where I believe the future will interact and embrace all the five senses creating an immersive physical experience. The experience will be memorable because it will be real and of that place and time.


October 2, 5pm Cocktail Reception, 6pm Presentation


The University Club, 76 E. Monroe St., Chicago, IL 60603


Admission is $25 and $20 for Frank Lloyd Wright Trust members; University of Chicago alumni, faculty and staff; and AIA Chicago members. Student admission is $5. For more information, visit Frank Lloyd Wright Trust's website.
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