Public art

Using upcycled and healthy materials makes the art at Gradient Canopy more sustainable.

3 minutes

The Orb and Go artwork in the Google Visitor Experience plaza.

The Orb and Go artwork in the Google Visitor Experience plaza. Photo: Iwan Baan for Google.

We strive to create functional and healthy workspaces that also offer moments of surprise and delight. It’s the intangible third dimension that helps us feel engaged, energized and comfortable by reminding us of our shared humanity. Art is an engaging way to tap into this humanistic element, and since 2010 we have instituted several art programs at Google, including our internal GoogleArts Program, our Google Arts & Culture initiative and our Artist in Residence Program.

At the Google Visitor Experience (located at Google’s new Gradient Canopy office), a dedicated public art program extends this line of thinking to our wider Mountain View community. Sprinkled throughout the outdoor public plaza and walkways are six public artworks that help make the Google Visitor Experience a vibrant, welcoming place for all.

Created by artists hailing from near and far, each artwork was specially designed for its site, helping establish places around the building to gather, and introducing opportunities for play and joyful experiences. At the same time, the artworks continue the rigorous sustainability and healthy materials goals of Gradient Canopy, as each artwork is made from materials that are Red List Free (meaning they avoid ingredients most harmful to human and environmental health) and support zero-waste efforts. Just like the materials inside and on the building, the artworks contribute to Gradient Canopy’s efforts to attain the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) Living Building Challenge (LBC) Materials Petal certification.

When it came to conceptualizing the public art at Gradient Canopy, our goal was to identify engaging, whimsical art that would make the outdoor plaza a place to explore and return to again and again. In short, the desire was for art that was less like a museum, and more like the kind of creations experienced at the Burning Man event in Black Rock City, the annual temporary city in the Nevada desert known for its site-specific, evocative art installations. In searching for a partner to help bring the plaza art to life, we worked with the non-profit Burning Man Project, to coordinate a community-driven art selection process. Due to their strong commitment to community engagement, Burning Man Project aligned with our goal to create public art that would be interactive, participatory and offer a shared experience of creative expression.

Halo by SOFTLab at the Google Visitor Experience

Halo by SOFTLab at the Google Visitor Experience. Photo: Mark Wickens.

We knew we wanted to select artworks that would be mutually beneficial to the local communities and to Google. With the help of Burning Man Project, we held a series of community listening sessions and design thinking workshops that invited the local community to offer input on the art that would create the most vibrant community spaces. Through these gatherings, we heard the community’s stories of childhood adventure and curiosity, how people orient themselves through landmarks, and a strong desire for things that are playful. Many hoped for interactive artworks that relied less on technology and more on tactile, hands-on experiences. We also invited the community to vote on the final artworks via a public website.

Curious by Mr & Mrs Ferguson Art

Curious by Mr & Mrs Ferguson Art. Photo: Mark Wickens.

Out of an international call for artists that garnered more than 200 entries, the six public artworks selected help translate the larger sustainability goals of the building into a tangible, accessible human experience. Each piece of art is crafted with healthy materials that were either sustainably sourced or salvaged. For example, “Curious” by Mr & Mrs Ferguson Art is a giant grizzly bear sculpture — the official state animal of California — whose fur is crafted from more than 160,000 pennies. Together, the public artworks offer moments of surprise and delight, creating places for the community and Googlers alike to gather, reflect and get inspired.