Coronavirus collaboration

4 Austin parks blossom with new social distancing public art installation

4 Austin parks blossom with social distancing public art installation

"Bluebonnet" in Pease Park. Courtesy photo

As we avoid congregating indoors to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, many of us are exploring the great outdoors. But even outside, it’s critical to practice social distancing.

A new project whose players include AIA Austin, the Austin Foundation for Architecture, and architecture firm Gensler has come up with a creative way to merge the beauty of the outdoors with the necessity of social distancing. It’s called the PARKSPACE project, which initially is being rolled out at four Austin parks.

“PARKSPACE boldly weaves the elements of an architectural landscaping intervention and a social-distancing awareness campaign into one exciting public outdoor experience,” Ingrid Spencer, executive director of AIA Austin and the Austin Foundation for Architecture, says in a June 23 release.

Volunteers set up one of the city’s PARKSPACE art installations June 30 at Pease Park, with the Pease Park Conservancy on board as a collaborator. All of the installations consist of vibrantly colored squares that are applied to the ground with eco-friendly paint. They serve as a piece of art enabling visitors to enjoy green spaces — picnicking, sunbathing, or practicing yoga, for instance — while adhering to social-distancing guidelines.

Aside from Pease Park, Austin parks getting the PARKSPACE treatment are Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park, Republic Square, and Zilker Park. The Guerrero installation was the first one to be completed.

Each park’s installation draws its inspiration from a Texas wildflower. For instance, Pease Park’s wildflower muse is the bluebonnet.

Gerardo Gandy, a Gensler architect in Austin, developed the idea for the PARKSPACE installations, which are similar to park installations in other cities. Gandy wanted to enliven Austin’s installations by incorporating the colors of Texas wildflowers. He was motivated by part of a quote from Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady and noted conservationist: “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”

“Creative placemaking is a communal experience, and PARKSPACE is an installation for our times; a new way to be together, apart,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler says in the release.

The release indicates the entire four-park pilot project will be in place ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, though all Austin and Travis County parks are closed over the holiday to help curb the spread of COVID-19. After that, additional local parks will be considered for PARKSPACE installations. 

Other partners in PARKSPACE include the Austin Parks and Recreation Department and the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation.