“Retu(r)ned Oak” is a site-responsive public art installation. By expressing the timeless language of mathematics found in nature, this project hopes to communicate nature’s beauty in a modern way.
Making a connection with nature in our contemporary fragmented lives may seem challenging, but it has never been more vital. In understanding nature’s beauty, we find appreciation and a sense of value. These motivate feelings of love for nature and a desire to protect it.
Before European settlers founded a city on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, the region was dotted with majestic Coastal Live Oak trees. The city of Oakland took its name from those trees. In 1911, a building that eventually headquartered Oakland’s street car system was built in downtown. In 2017, Ellis Partners decided to restore the Key System Building and connect it to a new high-rise. In response to a public art ordinance, the architects and developers designated a band of glass above the sidewalk as the site for our work.
The site was a north-facing seventy-five-foot-long glass wall plus a west-facing ninety-five-foot wall. How to make clear, north-facing, uncolored glass animate the building? The answer lay in the natural reflective quality of simple window glass.
The use of reflections was half the solution. The other half came from a conceptual approach to the artwork, which was found in the Coastal Live Oak tree and, more specifically, its acorn cap. An analysis and understanding of the acorn cap led to the solution for 1100 Broadway—a pattern born from the city’s namesake. By combining the acorn’s proportion system and the building’s structural grid, a parametrically derived 3d tessellated pattern was conceived.