ASU's campus: Where art meets function

June 13, 2013

In art, the theory of formalism posits that a work’s artistic value is inherent only in its form, as opposed to its historical context or what it represents. As strident proponent of the formalism theory, twentieth century art critic Clive Bell, remarked on the subject, “the forms of art are inexhaustible; but all lead by the same road of aesthetic emotion to the same world of aesthetic ecstasy.”    

But what of the college campus? Can it be considered a work of art? Certainly, a college campus has form; but does that form elicit aesthetic emotion? Gammage Auditorium Download Full Image

In Thomas A. Gaines’ book, “The Campus as a Work of Art,” he opens with the proclamation, “The first thing to know about the campus as a work of art is this: It rarely is.”

Art history professor Betsy Fahlman agrees. She explains that because many college campuses develop sporadically over time, the result is often a noticeable difference in architecture and layout that can create an overall feeling of dissidence. And though the various campuses that make up Arizona State University were “developed in spurts, with varying presidential visions,” as Fahlman puts it, she points to its designation as an arboretum as a successful means of unifying the various designs that have resulted within, as well as between, campuses: “A little interesting greenery goes a long way.”

Being the oldest of the four, the Tempe campus runs the historical gamut in terms of architectural styles. Situated at the northernmost point of campus, set back from University Drive is the aptly named Old Main. Built in 1898, it is one of the oldest and most stylistically traditional university buildings. Its rust-colored brick façade and arched windows overlook a sweeping, quartered lawn, at the center of which, Emory Kopta’s three-foot tall “Kachina Fountain” cuts a pleasing symmetrical line through the sloped stone staircase.

In stark contrast, just across the street is the Fulton Center, whose sheer precision and futuristic appearance combine to create a strikingly attractive exterior. The building is an intriguing conglomeration of geometric shapes that appear to float when viewed from certain perspectives. Its southern face, sheathed almost entirely in glass, makes for quite the spectacle at night with the angular projections of the roof framed by an enchanting green glow.

Though perhaps the most ubiquitous structures, buildings are not all there is to consider when determining the artistic merit of a college campus. Fahlman notes the importance of public art installations in creating a sense of place and history. “It creates a sort of museum without walls,” she says.

In 2006, Public Art Review magazine ranked ASU’s public art in the top ten campus collections in the nation, something Fahlman asserts sends a distinct message to students. She explains, “When a campus is visually intriguing on the outside, it hints at what can be expected on the inside. Campuses that embrace art provide a more intellectually stimulating environment.” Gaines reflects that idea in his book with a quote from Wesleyan University music professor Richard Winslow, who noted, “the richness of [a] curriculum results from the conviction that things intellectual should be partnered by things emotional and physical.”

At the Downtown Phoenix campus, Janet Echelman’s 100-foot tall sculpture, "Her Secret is Patience," hangs above Civic Space Park. Its form was inspired by the saguaro cactus flower and, much like the Fulton Center, the sculpture comes alive at night. As dusk falls on the city, its multicolored neon rings resonate with vibrant intensity, hovering delicately in midair.

Across the Valley at the Polytechnic campus, two large agave sculptures – each depicted at a different stage of growth – serve as focal points to a carefully constructed desert oasis. A testament to ASU’s commitment to sustainability, the Desert Arboretum was designed to bring the natural aesthetic beauty of the Sonoran Desert to the campus. The sculptures, constructed from recycled metal by Scott Cisson, add an unexpected element of visual interest to the space. The contrast between the burgeoning vitality of the arboretum’s live plants and the stoic resolve of the inanimate sculptures mirrors the contrasts found in the nature of the desert that surrounds it.

Thoughtful design, calculated landscaping and provocative art installations aside, Gaines reveals that there is yet another dimension a campus must exhibit if it is to be considered a work of art: planning. He says, “The well-planned campus belongs among the most idyllic of man-made environments,” the enemy of which, “is the lack of aesthetic tradition that pervades even the civilized halls of the academy.”

At ASU's West campus, the courtyard-style campus was modeled after the architecture of the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Viewed from above, the hollowed-out cubes of buildings form a quilt of lush, green quadrants. The lawns within are neatly bordered by various trees and shrubbery, thoroughly mimicking the aesthetic tradition of that prestigious university that came before it.

Despite the college campus’ obligation to necessitate function, ASU has managed to do so without sacrificing aesthetic sensibility. And according to the designer of the university’s iconic Gammage Auditorium, world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, accomplishing that is the definition of art: “Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use.”

When judged against Gaines’ criteria, it appears ASU’s varied campuses could indeed be considered works of art, and he agrees; he lists the university in his book as one of the top fifty in the country whose campuses merit artistic recognition.

Emma Greguska

Editor, ASU News

(480) 965-9657

Scholarships aid sustainability students exploring policy, diversity

June 14, 2013

Being born and raised in Tempe, Maria Eller’s decision to go to Arizona State University would seem like an automatic choice. However, the incoming freshman says she was first attracted to the university’s sustainability program.

“I knew that at ASU, I could help the community, and that’s very important to me,” Eller says. “I want to serve Tempe. I knew that I would be learning a lot that I could use for social justice and the community.” headshot of female, black-haired Maria Eller wearing striped, collared shirt Download Full Image

Eller is a recipient of the Clean Air Cab Scholarship, established in 2009 and available to School of Sustainability students that are involved in their community while pursuing innovative and entrepreneurial studies. Clean Air Cab is Arizona’s first carbon neutral taxi service with over 40 Toyota Priuses and a deep commitment to the local economy and community.

“We designed our scholarships to reward individuals who share our same values in conserving our ecology and creating sustainability within their thinking as it pertains to their actions, community projects and future business structures,” says Steve Lopez, founder and owner of Clean Air Cab. “By positioning ourselves with ASU students and awarding ASU School of Sustainability scholarships, we feel we are taking steps in becoming a part of the future and the solutions to tomorrow’s concerns, today.” 

The second recipient, Sean Martin, is a student in the School of Sustainability. Approaching his senior year, the Tucson native will graduate with two degrees: a bachelor’s in sustainability and a bachelor’s in business with a concentration in legal studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business.

Martin is interested in becoming a sustainability consultant. His policy and governance concentration in the School of Sustainability will allow him to see both the corporate and political sides of the sustainability argument.

“Combining business, law and sustainability gives me the right perspective to understand how people create synergic relationships between the community and business, and how they support policy so we can start moving towards progressive energy,” Martin says.

An early introduction to sustainability

Eller first learned about sustainability through music, listening to Jack Johnson sing about waste, recycling and conservation. Growing up, she hiked the Grand Canyon with her family and participated in the Habitat Club in elementary school.

As a top student at McClintock High School, Eller and her friends wanted to create enthusiasm for conservation so they started her school’s first sustainability student group, EcoClub. She also was an intern at the Global Institute of Sustainability’s education outreach department, developing a water conservation game for the Arizona Historical Society Museum.

“Through education, you can show people how to make a difference by choosing alternatives that make our community more sustainable,” she says. “It’s really important to integrate and involve the community in the problem-solving.”

Martin admits that after high school, he didn’t know where to start or what to study. After doing some research, he found he was most interested in clean energy like solar power.

“The more I read about sustainability, the more I realized it was a field that could expand to whatever I wanted it to be,” he says. “I could define what my education would be, but with the right structure, people and open mentality.”

While in the school, Martin became the director of recruitment for Greenlight Solutions, a student club providing pro-bono sustainability consulting to local businesses. Student consultants come from all campus departments, delivering well-rounded corporate sustainability analyses and missions. Martin will be able to use this experience once he graduates.

“The thing about consulting is you can take on any project and really challenge yourself to use your skills in a new way,” he says.

Students develop own definitions of ‘sustainability’

Both students are using their sustainability education in different, but admirable ways. While sustainability is not fully accepted or adopted, Eller and Martin believe they can be the change they wish to see in the world.

“Sustainability is not a field; it’s not a tack-on to a new business department. It’s a way of thinking,” Martin says. “That’s one of the greatest challenges of sustainability: opening people up to what it is. Once people understand its value, that’s when the real progress will be made.”

Quoting a famous Native American phrase, Eller believes that “we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children."

"Sustainability for me is about preserving and understanding the different systems and connections between the nonliving and the living,” she says.

What’s next

This fall, Eller will begin her freshmen courses and wants to infuse diversity issues within her sustainability studies.

“I hope to learn about how human behavior and habits alter and affect ecosystems,” she says. “There are so many aspects to climate and environmental issues, but having perspectives from different cultures can help find solutions. I feel like you need to know about different cultures in order to adapt those solutions so that they can be implemented everywhere.”

An avid scuba diver and ocean lover, Eller hopes to advance to graduate school where she can study marine biology.

Martin wants to intern with ASU LightWorks, a research and education initiative focusing on Arizona’s renewable energy options. If chosen, he will help develop a measurement system for the university’s solar usage. After graduation, Martin plans to explore graduate programs in Europe.

“I want a new way of looking at sustainability,” he says. “I think if I went to a sustainability program in a different country, it would give me a wider perspective. I want to open my mind to the largest spectrum of fresh ideas as possible.”

Funding fuels the future

Thanks to the Clean Air Cab Scholarship, Eller and Martin will be able to turn their aspirations into realities.

“I want to thank the donors at Clean Air Cab and the School of Sustainability’s Academic Services director, Lisa Murphy,” Eller says. “I am totally responsible for paying for school and this scholarship will take the pressure off so I can focus on my classes and on any possible internships and research.”

“The scholarship enables me to steer my future in the direction I see best,” adds Martin. “Because sustainability is such an amorphous career and has the potential to go anywhere, being financially enabled by Clean Air Cab lets me be fully focused on my learning and advancement.”