Many students would never guess that the dots and lines of Willamette Hall’s Paul Olum Atrium floor, the geometric silver protrusions on the posts and the squiggles on the side of the staircase are intentional references to particle physics, chemical molecules and DNA strands respectively.
Cascade Hall, Willamette Hall, Streisinger Hall and Deschutes Hall were built in 1989, along with the Museum of Natural History. Under Oregon law, these buildings were subject to Oregon’s Percent for Art Program, which sets aside “not less than 1 percent of the direct construction funds of new or remodeled state buildings with construction budgets of $100,000 or greater for the acquisition of art work which may be an integral part of the building, attached thereto, or capable of display in other State Buildings,” according to the Web site of the Oregon Arts Commission, which administers the program.
Lotte Streisinger, a local artist and the widow of former University biology professor George Streisinger, served as visual arts coordinator for the UO Science Project. In her role, she was the non-voting chair of a committee of building-users, artists and art professionals. The committee then conducted a national search for architecturally integrated art and a regional search for movable art.
Once the committee found suitable pieces of movable art, such as photographs, drawings, paintings, prints and so on, the movable art subcommittee loaded the pieces onto a cart and pushed the cart around the science complex, testing out pieces in various locations as building-users expressed their approval or disapproval of the selections. Streisinger recalled geology faculty reacting strongly to a satirical print in the lunchroom about eating, necessitating a new home for the print.
As an example of architecturally integrated art, the buildings are linked by “Science Walk,” a tile path laid by Scott Wylie. Streisinger, a potter, contributed some tiles representing raindrops in the courtyard between Willamette Hall and Streisinger Hall.
The east end of “Science Walk” is at Deschutes Hall. The west end is at a fountain in the courtyard between Cascade Hall and Columbia Hall. Alice Wingwall, who built “Cascade Charley – Water Contemplation Place,” collaborated with Wylie to make the path look like it was coming out of the fountain. Wingwall also drew innovative design elements from her senses.
“(Wingwall) is almost totally blind … but she hears well,” Streisinger said. “(The fountain) has two sounds of water, a sheet of water and a drop.”
A series of gargoyles by Wayne Chabre on the outside of the buildings also provides a common thread. Streisinger said the scientists working in each building selected the subjects of that building’s gargoyles. Biologists in Streisinger Hall chose a fruit fly and a zebrafish, reminiscent of their research projects; Cascade Hall geologists chose Thomas Condon, who became the University’s first professor of geology when the University was founded in 1876; the computer scientists in Deschutes Hall picked computer science pioneers Alan Turing and John Von Neumann; physicists in Willamette Hall selected Isaac Newton and Marie Curie, among others.
Albert Einstein is featured over the east exit of Willamette Hall, sticking out his tongue playfully in a pose reminiscent of a photo taken on his 71st birthday.
“Some older scientists thought that was disrespectful of Einstein, so we put it over a side door,” Streisinger said. “My job was to move things people objected to.”
Scientists’ input extended to even basic architectural features of the buildings. The building named for George Streisinger is only accessible from the ground floor by entering a code into a keypad.
“When this building was built, there was a lot of worry about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals),” Streisinger said. “They had liberated a bunch of laboratory animals, rabbits.
“Whereas I have some sympathy for them, I think the rabbits probably all died on Franklin Boulevard.”
In contrast to the intentional obscurity of Streisinger Hall, one of the more well-known places in the science complex is the four-story Paul Olum Atrium in Willamette Hall. The mixed-media sculpture “Physics Wall” by Kent Bloomer represents atoms, molecules, DNA and astrophysics from the bottom of the atrium to the top, Streisinger explained.
After Streisinger’s committee finished its work, one area of the atrium remained unadorned.
“There was really nothing planned for the floor,” physics department head Dave Soper said.
Soper, at the request of University provost John Moseley, designed an artistic representation of a Feynman diagram, which represents reactions between elementary particles. In the graphic on the atrium floor, two large circles on opposite ends of the floor represent a proton and an anti-proton, each emitting three lines that represent quarks. When the quarks from the proton and anti-proton collide in the middle of the diagram, they annihilate each other, indicated by a small circle in the diagram. A wavy line jutting out from the small circle represents a w-boson, which then decays into smaller particles.
W-bosons are involved in a reaction that gives the sun its energy. In the reaction, the four protons of four hydrogen atoms become the two protons and two neutrons of one helium atom. The change comes from a change in the properties of the protons’ quarks, and w-bosons are produced in this change. This was discovered in the early 1980s.
“It was cutting-edge in the decade before, so it represented the era in which this building was built,” Soper said, adding that Willamette Hall will probably remain in use for another 100 years, and the discovery’s historical value will probably increase over time.