Fluid Movement: Janet Echelman and the Shaping of Urban Space


The post office might pride itself on its ability to endure rain, sleet, snow, and wind, but public sculptures don’t care much for the elements. Except if they’re the work of artist Janet Echelman, a New York- and Boston-based sculptor who creates monumental public works out of diaphanous, flexible nets that are meant to move and change shape over time. On view through March 2 at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge is a new exhibition of three of Echelman’s recent projects, including her controversial commission for downtown Phoenix (that’s a rendering of it above).

Echelman’s goal is nothing short of reshaping urban airspace, and she prefers to work with sites that “are either unnoticed infrastructure that have faded from public memory, or iconic landmarks that have are so overexposed they become habitual background.” Among the projects on view at the GSD, where Echelman is a Loeb fellow, are plans for the Richmond Skating Oval, a site for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. She plans to create a riverfront water garden that remediates run-off water from the roof of an adjacent building and install bright red wooden footbridges that float beneath glowing “sky lanterns,” which bob and twist in the wind.

For a closer look at Echelman’s work, check out the below video of the only one of the projects in the exhibition that has been built: “She Changes,” a 160-foot-tall fiber sculpture that was installed on the coast of Portugal in 2005 and resembles a giant jellyfish.