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Praxis creates ‘memorable space’ in Lockwood

Praxis installation at unveiling

A crowd gathers at the unveiling of the Praxis installation in the Quick Connect Corridor between Lockwood Library and Clemens Hall. The computer workstations, left, will be redesigned in the second phase of the project this fall. Photo: Douglas Levere

By SUE WUETCHER

Published July 17, 2014

Faculty, staff and students traveling the second-floor walkway running from Lockwood Library to Clemens Hall may be pleasantly surprised to discover the space has been transformed from a plain, white corridor into a colorful art installation that engages passersby both artistically and intellectually.

“Praxis—Lockwood Interfacing,” which features the work of students from the departments of Art and English, was unveiled last semester as part of UB’s Signature Series celebrating the university’s legacy in the arts and letters. The second phase of the project, which is being designed by students in the Department of Theatre and Dance, is expected to be installed in the fall.

Praxis, according to its abstract, “synthesizes theoretical investigations with practical applications in typography.” Its objective: “to design and apply a coded message to this space that tests the limits of language and challenges readership.”

Ben Van Dyke, an associate professor in the Department of Art whose Typography 2 students took part in the project, said he told the students that the project “needed to be transformative.”

“It couldn’t just look like a piece of art just put on the space, something that would blend in. It had to fundamentally change the space,” said Van Dyke, who has since left UB to join the faculty at Michigan State University.

Visitors may first notice the overhead beams along the corridor have been painted bright shades of red, blue and yellow. A poem written by English student Kendall Spaulding serves as a riddle, its words “coded” in different typographical designs created by Van Dyke’s students. Five lines of poetry appear along the beams from each direction, which allows visitors to read them differently as they pass through the hallway. To add to the complexity, fonts are associated with specific color schemes —for instance, plainer fonts are displayed in white type on a yellow background — making some of them harder to read and decipher.

Van Dyke said that while only a few persons know the answer to the riddle, “there is a key in the space that can be used to help unlock the message.”

In phase 2 of the project being implemented this fall, students under the direction of Erich Frank, clinical assistant professor of technical theatre, will redesign the workstations for the “quick connect” computers that line the hallway.

In fact, an initial plan by the Office of the CIO to replace those workstations actually sparked the entire Praxis project, notes Nancy Kielar, assistant vice president in the Chief Information Office.

“The number of people who walk through that corridor is incredible,” Kielar says. Rather than simply replacing the furniture, she thought, “why don’t we turn this area into another memorable space?”

Kielar has a track record of transforming uninspired space on the North Campus into space that is memorable and a high point for students. Nearly three years ago, she spearheaded the transformation of the Lockwood Cybrary from a space that students informally called “the cave” into a bright, colorful, more inviting space — and a highlight of UB campus tours.

The idea of creating “memorable spaces” on campus came to Kielar after she took a series of college tours with her children. While all the campuses generally seemed the same, each one had one spot that stood out and was memorable, she recalls.

The effort to create that memorable space in the Quick Connect Corridor began when Kielar reached out to E. Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Pitman put out the word to his faculty, and Van Dyke and Frank “jumped at the chance,” Kielar says.

The Praxis project “is really very cool,” she says “transforming the entire space and highlighting the work of our students.”

The project did not cost a lot of money, she notes, but it made a real difference.

“I’d love to continue it, piece by piece,” she says.

Robert Poleszak, BS ’14, contributed to this article.