As neighborhoods rapidly evolve with changing populations and new developments, it is important to acknowledge the community’s history and add new layers of beauty and richness to enhance placemaking. Integrating public art installations into architecture helps tell the stories of the people interacting with the buildings; murals, concrete stamps, decorative screens, fences, and countless other installations help represent and strengthen the why behind the architecture. MWA goes beyond adding murals to walls but works with artists to integrate and enhance both inside and outside spaces. As architects, MWA understands the value of collaborating with local artists to incorporate meaningful work into the fabric of our designs.
Past and Present Futures Fence by Local Artists Cleo and Kayin Talton-Davis of Soapbox:
African American artists Cleo Davis and Kayin Talton-Davis envisioned the fence as a timeline of Kenton, depicting the neighborhood’s history and imagining future dreams of children living there. In conversation with the neighboring Paul Bunyon statue, the piece references the landscape pre-colonization, the stockyards that used to inhabit the site, and the Vanport floods – all part of Kenton’s rich history. Knowing that Renaissance Commons would likely house Black families who had previously been displaced by gentrification, it was essential to create spaces that celebrate and acknowledge their experiences and future dreams.
Maps of Vanport by local artist Peter Yue
Renaissance Commons looks over the historic 1942 Vanport flood site, which decimated the temporary housing development once populated by a large portion of Portland’s Black population. Inspired by documents recovered from the disaster, Peter Yue transposed a map of the old neighborhood on the lobby’s walls. Creating an abstracted and graphic rendition, he acknowledges the past and looks to the future.
As part of San Francisco’s Public Art in Architecture program, MWA coordinated with the San Francisco Architecture Bureau to enliven Muni’s East Maintenance Yard facilities with etched glass detailing at the front and back entries. The building’s 40-foot-high blue glass walls offer expansive views of the bay area and provide an opportunity to incorporate art. The etched glass uses bold white lines to depict a blueprint of the Muni tracks. Its placement elongates the façade and allows natural light to flow through the building.
HANNAH MASON PUMP STATION
Located in Willamette Park, Hannah Mason Pump Station enhances the area with a balance of function and aesthetics. The stamped concrete façade expresses the inner workings of the building and connects the design to its function. Utilizing two stains on the smooth and textured surfaces creates an organic effect that reflects the structure’s natural surroundings. Hannah Mason exists as an ode to the landscape while also bringing its architectural value to the park.
STEPHEN’S CREEK CROSSING CHILDREN’S CENTER
At the Stephen’s Creek Crossing Children’s Center, play is an integral aspect of the curriculum. To encourage recreation throughout the seasons, Diana designed a covered outdoor space with decorative screens to enhance play through light and shadow, as well as keep toys contained. A collaboration with the local artist, Hilary Pfeifer, the screens reference nature with playful shapes and figures. As sun shines through the metal, abstracted graphics are projected onto the ground in dappled light patterns that heighten a sense of imagination and delight.
Hilary continues to utilize diverse materials, and ten years later, she and MWA are working together again on a sculptural mobile for the common building at Broadleaf Arbor Apartments. Her piece will hang in the connecting breezeway which is the heart of this campus. Interacting with the structure’s wood paneling and oculus, her wooden mobile will act as the centerpiece of the breezeway.
As part of Schrunk Tower’s renovation, MWA envisioned a chance to incorporate a mural into the building’s tall wall, visible from the bridge and across the neighborhood. RACC then worked with the owner to choose an artist that celebrated the community. The designers used the unique formal language of the structure to inform their palate and placement of color. The Large tower and vertical fins lining the building’s façade provided the perfect opportunity to add bold accents of color. Positioning the mural on the tower set it at an urban scale seen from the St. John’s Bridge, a mile away. After extensive community input, Mauricio Ramirez was awarded the honor of painting Portland civil rights leader, Beatrice Morrow Cannady, on the building.
Located in Gresham, Oregon, Arts Plaza is a housing development centered around visual art culture. The apartments neighbor Gresham’s iconic downtown movie theater, and the architects wanted to create interactions between the two spaces. Upon completion, a mural will flank a pedestrian easement on the west end of the property between the theatre and the plaza across the street. Although the artist has not yet been chosen, the architects have carved out a nook where the mural will be placed.
Knowing the positive impact that art brings to public spaces, MWA will continue to seek opportunities to integrate art into our designs, collaborating with artists who share a similar mission of creating public spaces that promote healthy, accessible, and beautiful communities.