Palo Alto WEEKLY Sept. 2003

Board of Contributors
Awards signify importance
of Sun Flowers sculpture

by Gerald Brett

California Avenue’s “Sun Flowers,” the city’s newest work of public art, won two major prizes Friday night at the 2003 American Institute of Architects’ Best of the Bay Design Awards ceremony held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The multifaceted sculptural installation, by artists Jennifer Madden and Jeff Reed, “Sun Flowers” won both the Excellence in Green Design Award and the Excellence in Urban Design Award. The artwork is located in front of Country Sun Natural Foods at 440 California Ave. There were more than 400 entries in the annual competition, with the winners chosen by a jury of architects.
But the awards have a broader significance – they reflect how a single work of art can generate a small Renaissance of creative energy in a commercial neighborhood.
The AIA design awards “Celebrate the best of Bay Area architectural design, recognize achievement in a broad range of architectural work, and inform the public of the breadth and value of architectural practice.”
The Green Design award, sponsored by the Pacific Energy Center to “honor work that contributes, by its design, to the creation of a sustainable world.” Primarily funded by the City of Palo Alto Utilities, “Sun Flowers” was commissioned as an artwork dealing with the theme of energy conservation. Imbedded in the elegant petals of the bronze, rotating poppy flowers are solar panels that illuminate the sculpture at night.
The Urban Design award, sponsored by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, recognizes “anyone involved with the physical design of places or buildings, including architects, planners, and landscape designers,” according to the AIA. “Sun Flowers” transformed an under-utilized plot of public land into an inviting meeting place, and has become a vital point in the California Avenue Art in Public Places development.
CNN newscaster and awards-ceremony emcee Sydnie Kohara quoted from statements made by the panel of judges. In the case of the Green Award, in addition to acclaiming “Sun Flowers” for its

daring, high-tech aesthetics, the City of Palo Alto was commended for its willingness to commit to a public commission that might be seen as “risky.”
On the Urban Design Award, the jurors applauded artists Reed and Madden for devising a highly interactive work that succeeds in drawing people into its inner workings -- both by the lively kinetic action of the revolving flowers and by the comfortable environment created beneath and around them.
Since “Sun Flowers” was installed in 2002, the project has gained significant attention in Northern California. Architecture writer Alan Hess of the San Jose Mercury News highly praised the work in an Aug. 3 article: “Beautifully designed and executed by Reed-MaddencDesigns of Oakland, it (Sun Flowers) reawakens a glimpse of the bucolic innocence of California….
“It is not simply ornamental, raised on a pedestal to be viewed; it is also an environment to be inhabited,” he said.
Already a standout in the growing collection of public art on California Avenue, “Sun Flowers” is inspiring further art expressions in the district. Plans are underway to create a two-dimensional complement to the sculpture on the wall of the Country Sun building, facing the alley on Mimosa Way. Next spring, work will begin on a large mural depicting California poppies in an idyllic Golden State setting.
It will be the tenth public-art project in the area, with funding from Country Sun, the California Avenue Area Development Association (CAADA) and the Palo Alto Public Art Commission.
Also buoyed by the stunning success of “Sun Flowers,” the City of Palo Alto Utilities is considering another public-art campaign devoted to the theme of energy conservation. While details remain to be finalized, a citywide, small-scale mural project will likely begin in the next few months.
“Sun Flowers” has earned the community’s attention for its beauty and function; its artists have gained the recognition of peers for their professionalism and innovation; and new art projects are emerging as a direct result.
In the realm of public art, it’s difficult to cite a more successful outcome.
Gerald Brett is member of the Weekly’s Board of Contributors, and is a member of the Public Art Commission of the City of Palo Alto. He can be emailed at Gerald_brett@yahoo.com.