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How can art and architecture work together to strengthen our sense of place?

Westcott Remix is designed to incorporate painting and relief sculpture into two locations on the building facade. With the integration of these artistic elements we hope to create meaningful architecture that inspires a strong sense of place.



Generally, if you want to see art, your best bet is to find a museum or a gallery and to be prepared to pay some sort of admission fee to get in. But architecture doesn’t have to be just a container for art. Prior to Modernism, it was difficult to draw a hard line between the two. Historically, architecture has differentiated itself from other forms of building through its use of artistic decoration. The decoration was integral to architecture and took the form of statuary, murals and mosaics.

It’s interesting to see, after Modernism’s attempt to strip architecture of decoration for the sake of formal purity, it’s now becoming common for a portion of a building project’s funds to be allocated to public art. In some states, this is even required for publicly-funded projects over a certain size through what’s known as a Percent-for-Art Program (Read more about Percent-for-Arts from the NASAA). Policies such as Percent-for-Art are a recognition of the value that public art, integrated into architecture, can have for our communities. Beyond just softening a “functional” building, art brings us joy, inspiration, and can be crucial to establishing a personal relationship to a unique place. These are all things that we want and expect from good architecture.

We at Echo have focused our work at the intersection of art and architecture, having painted large murals on existing buildings and built sculptures for public spaces. With Remix, there is an opportunity to do something that is as much old-fashioned as it is novel … that is, to design a building that fits into the neighborhood, and integrates the traditional arts of painting and sculpture into its design.


The Hand and Lock Alley Mural, in Syracuse

Remix will have two public art components: a 3-story mural facing the courtyard and street, and a relief sculpture to be mounted on the facade near the entrance. As we think about these pieces of public artwork, we’re considering two ways in particular that public art can have value for the people who experience it.


Some works of public art are incredibly effective at telling the story of the place they are in. These works tend to carry historical, or even political, meaning in an enjoyable, expressive, and most importantly, visible manner. Artwork like this can be a great way to learn about both the ongoing histories of a place and the people who live there. One challenge with this type of art is that everyone has a unique story and it can be tricky to pick the right one or ones to tell.

Here are a couple examples of this type of story-telling art:

Lee Whitten, Billy’s Delicatessen; Gaia, Still Here


Other works of public art, without attempting to tell a story, are just plain beautiful. It can be exciting to round a corner and experience the joy of having stumbled into something unexpected. You may feel the place you’re in is somehow both bigger and more interconnected than you had thought. The challenge of this type of art is that, although enjoyable to experience, it tends to be less explicit about its relationship to place and may not have one at all. This won’t keep the work from helping create a deeper sense of place, but it won’t have the roots of a storytelling art.

Alice Rekab, Units of Potential; Jessie And Katey, Folding The Prism

And of course, we can try something that does a bit of both. That is, art that is both contextually or historically situated as well as being abstract, beautiful, and visually exciting. But this can be a challenging balance to strike.

Is there a piece of public art that you especially enjoy? Is there a particular story-of-place that you would like to see represented in Remix? Let us know in the comment form below: