Ring around the ... Fallon Building


Sculpture suggests roller coaster run, livens federal site

May 24, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Alice Aycock is a New York-based artist known for creating semi-architectural projects that are often interwoven with large-scale public buildings.

Her latest creation, an aluminum sculpture called Swing Over, can be seen above the entrance to the George H. Fallon Federal Building at 31 Hopkins Plaza in downtown Baltimore.

Commissioned in 1997 by the federal government and completed this month at a cost of $350,000, it suggests the flight patterns of two mating hummingbirds, or ballet dancers on stage.

Its curving sections look like roller coaster tracks - and were, in fact, fabricated by a maker of amusement park rides.

In a metaphorical sense, its twists and curves could be a commentary about the complexity of the federal government - and how ordinary citizens sometimes must follow a circuitous path to get what they want.

From a visual standpoint, it adds interest to a relatively non-descript structure. The sculpture might have popped out even more had it been much different in color from the exterior of the Fallon Building, the way Mary Ann Mears' Red Buoyant stands out from the beige office tower at 100 E. Pratt St. Instead, it is very much integrated with the building itself, and designed to age well.

"I like it," said Gary Kachadourian, visual arts coordinator for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. "It functions in the traditional sense of ornament, drawing attention to the building. ... I never really thought about the Fallon Building until this sculpture appeared."

Aycock's piece consists of two triangulated trusses, which loop across the facade and through the entrance portico of the Fallon Building. Two horn-like devices are perched in between their curves.

In all, Swing Over is composed of 400 linear feet of aluminium. It's roughly 40 feet tall and 120 feet long. It was completed as part of a $45 million renovation of the Fallon Building, which dates from 1967 and houses more than 1,400 federal employees.

"Most of my works are archi-tectural, not only in their scale but in their references," Aycock said in a phone interview. "I look at diagrams of movement. They could be movements in dance, or of airplanes, or roller coasters, or birds in flight, in their courtship patterns. I get my ideas from lots of places."

In this case, Aycock said, she set out to enliven the building by creating an architectural counterpoint to its "bland, rectangular" facade.

"The building is, to put it in a nice way, very simple, mundane," she said. "You don't really notice it. It's kind of monotonous.

"I wanted to create something that kind of wakes up the facade of the building and wakes up the space, that suggests you are in the presence of something you don't ordinarily see," she continued. "It's less about what's going on inside the building and more about creating a sense of whimsy, giving the building a new entrance or gateway."

Born in 1946 in Harrisburg, Pa., Aycock is a nationally known artist and one of the pioneers of the environmental art movement of the 1970s. Her work can be found in museums around the world, including New York's Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum of Art, as well as in public places.

Aycock was commissioned under the General Services Administration's Art-in-Architecture Program, which sets aside one half of 1 percent of the estimated construction cost of every new or substantially renovated federal building for works of art.

The Washington office of Robert Silman was the structural engineer. Black and White Fabricating of Baltimore was responsible for the installation. R. M. Kliment & Frances Halsband Architects of New York was the architect. They were hired under a second GSA program called the First Impressions Initiative, designed to improve the public spaces a visitor sees upon arriving at a federal building.

Aycock said she hopes her work will get people to think more about their surroundings and become more sensitive visually.

"Art is not just putting a little sculpture someplace," she said. "It's a whole sensitivity to how you visualize the world around you."

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