A grand new work of knots and colored rope from artist Janet Echelman floats 350 feet above the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway in downtown Boston. Commissioned by the Greenway Conservancy, the piece’s name — “As If It Were Already Here” — is as enigmatic as the art work itself. Echelman, who recently won the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award, is a remarkable sculptor of massive floating net installations and frequent collaborator with landscape architects. This new mesh work in Boston, her home town, is some 600 feet long, 2,000 pounds, and is comprised of 100 miles of fibrous twine 15 times stronger than steel set into a pattern only made possible through a half million hand-made knots.
As with another recent piece in Seattle for the 30th TED conference, Echelman is increasingly lacing interactive technologies into her sculptural experiences. In Seattle, visitors could use a smart phone app to paint lines across the sinuous surface of her piece. Here in Boston, this new piece, which cost some $1.25 million, uses “dynamic light elements” that react with the wind. “Sensors register movement and tension, manifesting data into the color of light projected onto the sculpture’s surface,” explains Wallpaper magazine.
Echelman’s artwork hangs over the Fort Point Channel section of the 1.5-mile long greenway, which was tacked onto the notorious “Big Dig” project that replaced an elevated highway that cut through downtown Boston with an underground one. While the greenway is certainly better than the elevated highway, there have been numerous complaints over the years about the success of the urban design, largely because its many segmented parks are still separated from the city by 2-lane streets on either side. In a recent tour of the greenway, Christoper Hume, architecture critic for The Toronto Star, called it a “failure of the city and landscape architecture in general,” pointing out that few people seem to want to spend any time there. And Cathleen McGuigan, editor of Architectural Record, who was also underwhelmed, wondered “where can you sit?,” pointing to the dearth of public benches along the linear park.
However, local businesses seem to disagree with the critics. Boston Innovation reports that the greenway is increasingly a magnet for companies. “According to Avison Young’s Fourth Quarter 2014 Greater Boston Office Market Report, ‘vacancy in the 1.2-million-square-foot Greenway micromarket was 6.8% at the close of 2014, significantly lower than the overall market’s vacancy rate of 12.1%. The Greenway has seen 695,000 square feet of positive absorption over the past 10 quarters, a trend that has nearly halved the vacancy rate of 12.4% during the same time period.'”
Boston Innovation also argues that Echelman’s dramatic piece, with its “scope and dynamism,” has brought the greenway conservancy’s ambitious public art program to a whole new level, which could result in a sustained uptick in park use. “People are now actively searching out Echelman’s piece and are all the more likely to stroll the length of the park because of it.”
This is not the first time Echelman has been brought in to enliven a space that needed a boost. As she explained in an interview with The Dirt, “I am frequently part of a team that includes landscape architects who are addressing a fix to some previous plan, often the result of urban renewal.”
On her net sculpture now floating above the greenway, she said: “With my new project coming in, I’m part of the process of bringing this place back to the people.”
Go see it before it comes down in October.
And watch a video of the installation of “As If It Were Already Here,” which was so technically complex — it required attaching the piece to three nearby buildings — engineers at Arup were brought in: