Jeana Ripple and Dr. Barbara Brown Wilson Transform an Urban Landscape
This fall a 15,000-foot building in the heart of Gary, Indiana was unveiled as a newly-transformed, vibrant cultural hub showcasing culinary and visual arts, thanks in large part to the talents and creativity of a pair of University of Virginia professors. In December of 2015, ArtHouse— a project of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge public grant program with leadership from the City of Gary and artist, Theaster Gates— issued a request for qualifications for two public art commissions that included Illumination, a light-based sculptural work, and Surface, a work to enhance the exterior of the existing, underutilized ArtHouse building. Jeana Ripple of Ripple Architecture Studio and Dr. Barbara Brown Wilson, both of whom teach at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, were selected from among 40 leading practitioners from around the world to do both commissions. Ripple has been hailed internationally for her use of manufacturing processes as a driver for design innovation, and Wilson is an award-winning urban planner and leader in community-engaged design who has been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Leaders in Public Design.”
Ripple and Wilson worked with a design and research team of UVA students and recent graduates to design a lightweight, steel variable-structure strung with color-filtering, rhythmically patterned, solar-powered lanterns. Light-Lab celebrates the city’s rich manufacturing history and tactile approaches to learning, reinventing local manufacturing processes to stretch the mass of the building and increase its visibility from the nearby toll road. Workshops were held on public art and prototyping throughout the production process with local youth, in partnership with Gary’s Live Arts Studio. Furniture making workshops taught skills to underemployed residents, paid them for their effort, and produced a public living room and large-scale art pieces to encourage play, performance and community events. The artist team also designed programmatic frameworks so that future artistic workshops can be hosted through ArtHouse, a youth leadership program can be launched, and future public art projects can be easily built off this physical and programmatic infrastructure, next time driven entirely by local energies.