Enhancing Public Spaces

Garden Street: Lower Level

How can we enhance public spaces in cities so that they engage individuals and community? What can encourage us to slow down and take a moment of pause in our busy lives? Janet Echelman ​’87 ​shares her journey exploring these questions in cities from ​London, Amsterdam, and Boston to ​San Francisco​, ​Singapore, and Sydney.

​A decade after graduating from Harvard College, she ​found her voice as an artist when her paints went missing, which forced her to look towards her surroundings and at a new art material – fishing nets. Now she makes billowing sculpture the scale of buildings that become inviting focal points for civic life. She combines ancient craft with cutting-edge technology to create monumental, ultra-lightweight art that moves gently with the wind.​ ​

She has collaborated with technologists and computer scientists to create custom software tools for soft-body modeling, in addition to developing platforms that enable members of the public to interact with her artwork, using cellphones to project gestures directly onto the sculpture surface. The result is a communal urban experience that is simultaneously virtual and physical. ​

Recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, her TED talk “Taking Imagination Seriously” has been translated into 34 languages with more than one million views, and her work was ranked number one on Oprah Magazine’s ​”​List of 50 Things that Make You Say Wow!​” Recently, she was named an Architectural Digest Innovator for “changing the very essence of urban spaces”​ and received the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Visual Arts, honoring “the greatest innovators in America today.”