Urban landscapes represent both the unique ecological challenges of the built environment and the identities of the communities that shape those spaces. Redesigning this landscape to incorporate the natural world not only improves the sustainability of the urban area, but it can also help strengthen the communities that live and work in those spaces. Three visionary artists and designers, Walter Hood, Stacy Levy, and Alisha B. Wormsley, are using their work to bring that alliance of the natural and built environments to Pittsburgh.
Walter Hood, a world-renowned designer, artist, and architect, has worked on projects ranging from art installations to whole neighborhood plans like the Hill District Greenprint in Pittsburgh. His work focuses on underserved and underprivileged communities, removing the functionless aesthetic of the everyday landscape and replacing it with one that empowers the environment and those within it.
The Greenprint plan for the Hill District addresses the community’s long overlooked and forgotten infrastructure by incorporating the area’s natural landscape into the plans. Hood posed the question, why can’t urban neighborhoods incorporate the environment into their landscape like middle- and upper-class neighborhoods? With the help of leaders and residents including the Hill District Consensus Group, Hood and his team are blending community spaces with living spaces to create a seamless transition from the built environment to the natural one.
Hood founded the Hood Design Studio in Oakland, California in 1992. He and the studio have received various awards and accolades like the AIA Award for Collaborative Achievement. Most recently, Hood himself received the prestigious 2017 Arts and Letters Award in Architecture. Among other projects, Hood was featured in the New York Times for his ongoing work on the International African American Museum in Charleston, South Carolina.
Through art, Stacy Levy highlights the connection between human beings and nature. As an environmental sculptor and artist, her work facilitates this kinship by showing the fluctuations between natural processes and humanity. Not only does her work show these processes, it immerses the viewer in them.
Levy’s Water Play Floor designed for the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh does just that. The space recreates the process by which rain enters and leaves the landscape, showing children and parents alike the natural connection between the earth and sky. Dropping a soft indoor rainstorm onto a floor with trenches that return the water to the ‘cloud’ like structure that they come out of, children can play in the artificial rainstorm making them a part of the exhibit and exemplifying the human connection to nature.
Since receiving a Pew Fellowship For The Arts in 1992, Levy’s work has been recognized around the country. Just this year Levy has been recognized with the 2018 Henry Meigs Environmental Leadership Award, The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s highest honor.
Alisha B. Wormsley’s art utilizes a myriad of styles to convey the complexities of life through the lens of gender, class, race, and time. She uses both the built and natural environment to create her work, melding together the old and the new with a distinguished grace.
She is using that work to inspire the next generation of artists, too. With the help of children from ACH Clear Pathways in Pittsburgh, which provides children from underprivileged neighborhoods with an artistic outlet, Wormsley created the We Came From The Stars project in August Wilson Park. Viewports overlooking the Hill District were strategically placed around the park, painted to resemble the star-filled night sky. Users can look through the viewports to experience different parts of the neighborhood. A tapestry-like painting was strung along a fence at the park depicting children flying away into the night sky to become stars. The inspiration was taken directly from ACH Clear Pathways’ children.
Wormsley’s work has been recognized with awards and grants from around the world. She has been featured at the Andy Warhol Museum, Bronx Museum, and Galerie Arte Universal: Santiago de Cuba among others. In 2016, Wormsley was awarded the City of Pittsburgh Mayor’s award for Public Art. She was also chosen as a 2017 Artup Artist Selection travel to South Africa, and most recently a 2018 Keyword International Grantee.
Join GBA in welcoming Walter Hood, Stacy Levy, and Alisha B. Wormsley on November 8th at the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. for the latest edition of the Inspire Speakers Series to discuss how art and design can revitalize our urban landscapes.