More than a pretty face; art maketh the place

Many of the world’s greatest cities and attractions are the result of our homage to faith, power and humanity embodied in art and monuments.

But as the centuries have worn on, the focus of public art has shifted from static statues and monuments to more functional and interactive forms that allow us to ‘disappear down a rabbit hole’ and imagine a different world.

As we better understand the power of art and its ability to re-energise our cities, the braver we become.

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    Earliest public art

    40,000 year old Neanderthal hand stencil at El Castillo cave in Spain

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    World’s tallest art

    China’s Spring Temple Buddha statue

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    World’s most remote art

    The 887 stone statues on Easter Island — Earth’s most remote island

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    100 plus

    Number of pieces of public art located throughout the CBD, Northbridge, West Perth and East Perth

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    $44 million

    Amount WA has spent on 523 public artwork projects since 1989 under the Percent for Art Scheme

And, as we evolve even faster in a more populous, technology-focused world, so does the style and purpose of art. If art wants to speak to us today, it needs to surprise, inspire, delight and engage – it needs to turn up the volume.

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    Capitalising LED technology to memorise and enchant, the Rising Moon pavilion in Hong Kong was created from 7,000 recycled plastic bottles and suspended atop a reflection pool that mirrored light, colour and texture.

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    Eye-popping installation Onskebronn arrived at Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof train station in 2010. Using LED technology, it responded to visitors' steps in real-time, translating them into digital patterns and sounds.

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    Image 3 of 4

    The Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia, draws people down to its marble steps spilling into the blue ocean, which hide an elaborate system of pipes that create haunting melodies through the motion of wind and sea.

  • Stadtlounge-Switzerland-public-art-912x513.jpg
    Image 4 of 4

    More than 4,000 square metres of plush red velvet now flows through the Bleichei district in St Gallen, Switzerland to create the Stadtlounge (city lounge). It covers everything in its path and is open 24/7.

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In Japan, fabric of a different sort is pulling on the heart strings of the young and young-at-heart through a series of crochet playgrounds created by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam.


The playgrounds bridge the world of art and architecture – providing whimsical net structures that offer a bright explosion of colour and texture, as well as an engaging place to play.

Originally conceived as static 3D sculptures, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam describes the moment children started interacting with her pieces.

"Suddenly the piece came to life. My eyes were opened. I realised I wanted a connection between my work and people alive at this moment in time (not a hundred years from now). It was an exciting moment for me,” she commented to ArchDaily News.

With public art running the gauntlet from towering monuments to evanescent digital footprints and fibre-knit playgrounds, where will we go tomorrow?

The challenge for cities will be how public art can adapt to evolving tastes and fashions, while remaining a marker of our cultural identity and a part of our collective history.