The Austin Wall, U.S. Courthouse

Submitted by Mayer of Munich

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Client: GSA Art in Architecture and Fine Arts Program

Location: Austin, TX, United States

Completion date: 2013

Artwork budget: $102,600,000

Project Team

Public Art Agent

Steven Kline

GSA Art and Architecture Program

Client

Judge Lee Yeakel, Judge Andrew Austin, and Court Architect Dennis Berhalter

United States Courts

Industry Resource

Michael Mayer, Managing Partner

Franz Mayer of Munich, Inc. Art Glass and Mosaic

Art Consultant

Erica Behrens, Director, USA/Canada

Franz Mayer of Munich, Inc.

Architect

Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects

Artist

Clifford Ross

Industry Resource

Glass and Structural Engineers

Dewhurst Macfarlane and Partners, Larson Engineering, and Sentech Architectural Systems

Industry Resource

Lighting Design

Lam Partners

Industry Resource

Electrical Engineers

PageSoutherlandPage

Industry Resource

Motor-Driven Door Engineering

W.J. Higgins

Industry Resource

Motor-Driven Door Fabrication

Cox Design and Metal Fabrication

Industry Resource

Motor-Driven Door Controls

Schweiss Doors

Industry Resource

Glass Firing and Lamination

Steindl Glas

Industry Resource

Electricians

Schmidt Electric

Other

Carly Sacher, Special Projects Manager

Clifford Ross Studio

Overview

The Austin Wall is a monumental, innovative work in architectural stained glass by artist Clifford Ross. It measures 28 square feet, weighs 5,840 pounds, and comprises two parts. The lower, realistic portion, functions as doors to the jury assembly room. It features a panoramic black-and-white image of a local Hill Country landscape. Based on Ross’s photograph, the image is half-toned and printed in negative, so that its realism is softened and slightly abstracted.

The upper portion is a composition of rectangles in vibrant colors that create a dramatic abstraction of sky, water, earth, and foliage—including Austin’s Hill Country.

Goals

Working closely with the award-winning architecture firm of Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Ross integrated his commissioned artwork fully into the U.S. Courthouse by transforming an element of the architecture—a partition between the lobby and the jury assembly room—into a massive wall of richly colored stained glass. The Austin Wall functions in part as a pair of pivoting, motor-driven doors, which can be opened to create a public event space. Ultimately, the Austin Wall creates a civic monument that celebrates the work of the United States District Court, the dynamic city of Austin, and the stunningly beautiful Hill Country of Texas, while reinventing the centuries-old tradition of glowing, color-rich stained glass for the 21st century.

Process

The collaboration between Ross and the architects was so close that Ross voluntarily changed direction after the project began because he felt his initial plan would not be sufficiently sympathetic to the architecture. After extended negotiations, the GSA approved the change: moving from images printed on wood panels to images on glass. Ross selected Franz Mayer of Munich for fabrication and collaborated with Michael Mayer. They developed new techniques and blended them with centuries-old methods to transpose the imagery to glass. This meant extensive handpainting combined with digital printing, etching, and multiple firings in a special kiln in Austria. Half of the glass was shattered in shipping and had to be recreated, but Ross and Mayer worked with dedicated craftsmen in Munich and Austria to meet the project's deadline.

Additional Information

Judge Lee Yeakel, U.S. District Judge, and Judge Andrew Austin, U.S. Magistrate Judge, Western District of Texas, stated, “Clifford Ross’s work is a magnificent visual introduction to the first federal courthouse built in Austin in 76 years. Combining his photographic skills, his deep understanding of artistic tradition, and his remarkable sense of innovation, Clifford has created a work that represents the beauty of the Hill Country landscape while also embracing abstraction, locking the artwork seamlessly into the modernist vocabulary of the building.”