Location: Charlotte, NC, United States
Completion date: 2017
David Wagner, AIA
Wagner Murray Architects, PA
This colorful glass installation sits above the entrance of 101 North Tryon at the bustling intersection of Trade and Tryon in Charlotte, North Carolina’s City Center. Featuring laminated mouth blown glass, the 25’ x 14’ facade is an original work of art that honors the historic significance of its location while celebrating the city’s robust commitment to contemporary art and culture.
Trade and Tryon is a famed intersection in Charlotte; it is known as Independence Square, after the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, which many believe was the first declaration of independence made in the Thirteen Colonies during the American Revolution. Today, it is the heart of Charlotte’s City Center, hopping with business, art, and restaurants. As I worked with architect David Wagner to design a commissioned artwork for the newly renovated entrance of 101 North Tryon, we considered not only the identity of the building itself, but the remarkable context in which it is situated. We aimed to install a signature piece that would honor the intersection’s historic past, while imbuing it with a new colorful liveliness at all hours of day and night.
To this end, I designed a handmade glass installation that is deliberately abstract, referencing fragmented memories of decades past layered with the many shimmering colors of the urban present. By day, the glass panels reflect surface light; after dark, they are backlit with 50,000 LED lights, peacefully yet vibrantly welcoming the city’s nightlife.
This process was both challenging and exciting in that it involved long-distance collaboration. The client and architect were in Charlotte; I’m based in Rhode Island; and Derix Glasstudios (my fabrication partners) as well as Lamberts (one of my preferred glass resources) are in Germany. During the initial design phase, we coordinated entirely by email and telephone.
I designed the work in dialogue with the architects and Derix based on architectural drawings and renderings of the site. Early on, we knew that we wanted an exterior facade installation consisting of mouth-blown colored glass. Having worked with Derix on previous projects, we had a mutual understanding of the laminating technique and my aesthetic approach.
Once we arrived at the final design, I traveled to Germany, where I handpicked the glass at Lamberts and planned the fabrication at Derix Glasstudios. The completed panels were then shipped to Charlotte to be installed by Sun Glass, a local glazing contractor.
My piece for 101 North Tryon, like most of my work, is based on a grid. I’ve long been drawn to the grid, in part, because it relates to architecture as one of its essential structures: rectangular rooms, walls at right angles, and the basic shape of most building materials. What began as a solution to a technical problem became the inspiration for a certain kind of artistic freedom. One of the challenges I love most about making art that is integrated into architecture is working within the project’s functional constraints to unearth the most meaningful artistic expression.