ENVIRONMENTAL ARTWORKS STUDIO
- Val Rynnimeri
Through their practise Environmental Artworks Studio, Brad Golden and Lynne Eichenberg have built and are presently working on several large scale public artworks highlighting the industrial and technological heritage of Canadian cities.
Their work to date is site-based, developing a critical and exploratory relationship with the technological artifacts, development processes, and forms of control of both the sites and of the broader urban domain of those sites. The emphasis of their approach is a collaborative one and sets itself in the tradition of public art as an integration of art, architecture, engineering, and landscape. Whether their projects are temporary as in Outskirts in Markham, or permanent like Spadina Line, each work is meant to communicate an awareness to the public of what is involved in the construction of large public infrastructures. Not only the contemporary processes of collaboration to build these works are explored but also the memory of past technology and its role as a cultural artifact.
Outskirts, built between 1984 and 1988, was their first major work and meant as a temporary installation. Constructed using donated materials and funds in a "borderlands" area of suburban development, its large pylons evoke the qualities of infrastructural power and control necessary for the massive suburban growth of the 1980's. Ironically it remains intact in 1994, left in place by those same cycles and processes it was built as a critique of.
The historical aspects of both the engineering technology and its presence as infrastructure in the City of Toronto are key aspects of the design of Spadina Line. Part of a system of railway underpasses whose presence is felt throughout Toronto, the underpass at Spadina Road near Davenport Road is also a historical artifact, an example of railway technology of the early 20th Century. The project, built in collaboration with Norman Richards, is a system of aligned pedestrian streetlights which evoke both the materials and construction of the underpass, crossing perpendicular to it. As well, sundial elements and a time capsule of the bridge abutments establish connections to time's passage.
Recently the studio has completed a large public artwork for Kitchener's new City Hall Public Gardens and is proceeding with ongoing work on the Humber Bridges project; an artistic management of a system of bridges comprising sixteen lanes of traffic over the Humber River in Toronto's west end. Working collaboratively with the entire project team over four tiers of government and multiple jurisdictions, their role is as pragmatic opportunists looking for ways to expand the public identity of the bridge technology, not only of the present project, but of past projects. The site is crucial in this aspect with the necessity to signal the presence of the river and to create passages for the public landscapes of the river to pass over and under the new highway bridge.
Environmental Artworks Studio's projects built to date have a strong degree of detailing and material understanding. What begins as theoretical and artistic speculation is completed at a high level of construction quality. This broad scope of the work can only strengthen the public's understanding and appreciation for the role of technology in their lives and in the life and history of their urban places.
Val Rynnimeri is a regular contributor to Canadian Architect and is an associate professor at the University of Waterloo's School of Architecture.