Today, technology, engineering, and art. The University of Houston presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
I love strolling through our Houston campus. Everywhere we look we see startling pieces of art. It is an outdoor/indoor museum. But let us be aware of the technology and engineering behind it all.
Here, in the campus center a jumble of structural steel bars forms a tall tower. But a pattern emerges as we circle it. It’s actually made of three identical slabs, nested together. It uses a strangely logical structure to subtly engage our senses.
Forakis’, "Tower of the Cheyenne," and the edge of one of three sections
The early Greeks summed that up in a word: Techne! And that meant skill in doing – whether playing an instrument, building a structure, painting a picture, or doing mathematics. Aristotle added that a person who practices techne must be able to explain what he does. Which gives us our word techn-ology.
Technology is the lore, or the science, of techne. And that’s what this campus is all about. The STEM subjects fused with the Liberal Arts.
A Comma, A", 2003 by Jim Sanborn (at the UH Library)
So we pass fountains, bronze cougars, abstract forms – all made in ways too surprising to imagine. Like a gigantic square beam with a circular twist in the middle. Or a strange sinuous fence made of colorful slats. That sounds simple enough, until it shifts in color and form as we walk around it.
Many campuses (far from all) display public art. But we have a special mandate: Each time we erect a building, one percent of its construction cost must fund more public art -- another half percent for large renovations. And that attracts private contributions, like our Music School’s dramatic Winged Victory sculpture.
Or let’s go indoors: Our Architecture building’s interior is cathedral-like, with a square oculus in its roof. Outside, that oculus is surrounded by a strangely out-of-place Parthenon. Back on our walk, we pass art built by our students: Here’s a huge open-mesh aluminum piece resembling a beetle’s carapace – its parts formed with stunning precision. Over there is our engineering students’ red assembly of beams and gusset plates.
We come at last to our Radio/TV station. Its art object is indoors. A huge human head hangs from the ceiling of the entry hall. Look closely. It’s made entirely out of electronic parts and pieces of audio equipment.
Weird? Maybe. But it’s one more item that we cannot ignore. Everywhere we look, we see a fusion of art, engineering, and technology. We see a swirling reminder of what education is all about. The message is subtle, but it’s inescapable. The Arts are the binding tissue of all that we make or do.
Your Move", by Lawrence Argent, 2011
I’m John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we’re interested in the way inventive minds work.
This site: https://publicartuhs.org/art/ provides images of, and background for, public art at the University of Houston.
My thanks to Michael S. Guidry, Curator of the Art Collection at the University of Houston, for his great help and counsel.
All images shown here are my own. For more images of our public art, see: https://enginespics.smugmug.com/Events/University-of-Houston-Campus-2112023/
I describe various items on the campus here. I link each of those items in the script to a photo of that art, which will include an identification of the item. All photos by J. H. Lienhard.
This episode was first aired on August 4, 2023