Last edited 10 Jan 2021

Art in the built environment



[edit] Introduction

Although the built environment can encompass both internal and external spaces, the term art in the built environment tends to be used for instances of art that are installed externally to enhance public spaces. These spaces may include town centres, squares, shopping precincts, streets, riversides, parkland and indeed anywhere the public are free to use and experience space.

Art is often commissioned by developers, local authorities or other land owners, or may be procured by arts organisations, often with funding from organisations such as the Arts Council.

The types of art that may be encountered in the built environment can include:

[edit] Painting

The main instances of painting in the built environment are murals, usually on a large scale, applied to walls, buildings, bridges and so on. An otherwise drab, end-of-terrace brick house, for example, may offer a prime opportunity for a mural due to its size and its conspicuous location.

Paintings and drawings may also be created by street artists who are sometimes seen drawing on the pavement (usually using coloured chalk) as a way of getting money from passers-by.

For more information see: Mural

House mural, Glenelg Road, Brixton.

[edit] Mosaics

These are usually seen as large-scale murals although their labour intensive and costly nature tend to limit them to work commissioned by local authorities.

Historically, murals are often associated with Roman architecture, in particular floors.

[edit] Sculpture

This can include free-standing artworks in town centres, shopping malls and parks, but can also include sculptures attached to buildings, such as Barbara Hepworth’s on the John Lewis department store in London. It is probably the oldest form of art in the built environment and was in the past associated as much with the creation of monuments and public education as it was with beauty.

Statues commonly appear in historic urban environments, whilst abstract modern sculpture is a feature of many new developments and public spaces, often to the bemusement of passers-by.

Quantum cloud.jpg
Anthony Gormley's Quantum Cloud on the Greenwich Peninsula.

[edit] Landscaping

Streets, squares and other public thoroughfares can be designed to achieve an artistic effect that is both aesthetic and functional. Landscaping schemes may sometimes be associated with pedestrianisation that can include multi-coloured block paving, planting, seating, as well as other elements of public art. The aim is often to enhance user experience of public space but equally to entice shoppers into an area.

[edit] Fountains

The fountain is one of the oldest tools for enhancing public space, whether that is to provide a source of drinking water or for adornment. Fountains remain an important and much-used element, particularly in warm climates.


[edit] Graffiti

Although graffiti is not always regarded as ‘art’, and some graffiti can be very unsightly, there are nevertheless talented graffiti artists whose multi-coloured works can enhance otherwise drab public spaces. Usually applied by spray paint, the works are frequently at height and may carry a social comment.

[edit] Architecture

Architecture is not generally thought of as art, as its primary function is generally to satisfy the physical and spatial needs of a client rather than having purely artistic drivers.

Some styles of architecture are associated with artistic movements, such as the arts and craft movement, art deco, art modern, art nouveau and so on.

Trompe l’oeil is a technique that creates the illusion of reality. It is French for ‘fool the eye’ or ‘deceive the eye’. It has long been used by artists for paintings and murals, but can also be found in architecture where walls, ceilings, domes and other surfaces are painted with designs that ‘trick’ the observer into seeing other features such as windows, columns, stonework, ornaments and so on.

For more information see: Trompe l’oeil.

Architecture might also include elements of art such as; stained glass windows, frescos, bas-relief, friezes, gargoyles, and so on.

[edit] Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki

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