“The weight of your heart/The weight of a feather,” is a site-specific installation for the new Leawood Justice Center. Intended as a destination icon, the sculptural shade structure made of laser-cut weathering steel, speaks to the origins of the concept of justice, dating back to ancient Egypt, over 5000 years ago. The illuminated scale or fulcrum, representing the idea of balance and judgement, makes a comparison in weight between an “ideal” and the “real,” and in so doing, a measurement of truth, virtue, justice and equality. The sculpture is an anchor to the city’s public art collection and government campus.
The primary design challenge given by the City of Leawood was to interpret “justice” without using the cliché image of “Lady Justice.” The prominent location called for a sensitive understanding of scale and speed of travel, both in respect to the pedestrians on the walking/running trail that wraps the site, as well as for vehicles in the busy traffic corridor in front of the building. The piece is now an identity feature that connects the urban beltway and synonymous with the Justice Center.
The concept of “justice” is also expressed in nature. We turned to the laws of nature to understand our place in context within the world around us. For centuries, philosophers, scientists, writers, and artists have looked to nature to help find order, balance, and better relationships between one another. This connection has been handed down in many forms, from ancient mythology to the symbolism advanced in the study of floriography or “language of flowers.”
Another goal for the installation was to function on a variety of distinct levels. It is now a “storied structure,” a place to pause and reflect, yet with an imbedded narrative that invites the viewer to learn more.
Working closely with the City Council and an independent art consultant, we performed extensive research to develop the concept. Throughout the process, we shared freehand sketches, three-dimensional computer Sketch-Up models, site plans, and revisions. This included frequent meetings and dialogue, testing budget ramifications, and collaboration between a multi-disciplinary group of engineers and city public works. We also forged a strong, new relationship with a local, world-class metal fabricator, who in turn, introduced us to the best general contractor and sub-contractor specialty trades.
To ground the installation and make a meaningful connection between the location of the project and subject matter of the Justice Center, we explored the symbolic connections between nature and justice. We discovered three distinct species that relate to the concept of justice. The most prominent, the Sweet Chestnut tree, meaning “Do me Justice.” Its ugly exterior belies its sweet fruit, suggesting that one must look beyond outward appearances before judgement. Rudbeckia, a coneflower or black-eyed Susan, represents the overall concept of justice, able to thrive if given the opportunity. Coltsfoot, recognized by the daisy or dandelion speaks to innocence.
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CODA: Collaboration of Design + Art
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Art matters. Attention to the details of our environment leads to love of place, which brings us to take responsibility for the spaces where we live and work. And by extension, the people with whom we live and work. And by extension, to our local communities, our cities, our nations, and our world.
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