50 States of Public Art: San Francisco buses power Ned Kahn’s Bus Jet Fountain
It’s election season and that means that I’ve been hearing a lot of press about all the things that are going wrong in Northern California. So it was a pleasant change to see this story in the New York Times yesterday about artist Ned Kahn’s plan to use San Francisco’s public transit system to create an interactive piece of public art.
San Francisco buses power Ned Kahn’s Bus Jet Fountain
Artist: Ned Kahn
Location: Transbay Transit Center, San Francisco
Photo Source: Peter DaSilva/San Francisco Chronicle
Associated Public Art Project:
San Francisco’s new $2.2 billion Transbay Transit Center spans almost three blocks between Beale and Second streets in San Francisco’s East Cut neighborhood. The transit center routes AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, and MUNI buses below a 5.4 acre rooftop park.
The budget for the new transit center included $4.75 million for four public art installations in the terminal. One of these, Ned Kahn‘s Bus Jet Fountain, uses the buses themselves to trigger water fountains that spray out of a meandering granite stream bed that lines the public park above.
To create the interactive fountain, Kahn attached nozzles planted in the granite bed to sensors on the ceiling of the bus deck below. Buses traveling through the transit center trip a series of sensors, which in turn trigger the nozzles above to release individual sprays of water along the bus’s path.
Visitors in the park above the transit center can’t hear the buses themselves, but they can track their progress by watching the fountains. As many as 100 buses an hour pass through the center during rush hour, making for a lively and unpredictable water show.
Want to see Bus Jet Fountain for yourself?
You might have to wait a while. San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center is temporarily closed, while workers repair a series of structurally significant cracks in the ceiling that appeared in late September.
If you’d like to see more of Ned Kahn’s work, however, you can stop by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission headquarters at 525 Golden Gate Avenue. Ned Kahn’s interactive work Firefly covers the north wall of this 13-story building. Kahn crafted Firefly out of tens of thousands of hinged five-inch square clear polycarbonate panels that move freely in the wind. Firefly shifts constantly depending on the sun, the wind, and your position, so take a few minutes to view it from a few different angles.
Want to go, but need help selling it to your kids?
The fact that public art is installed in public spaces creates all sorts of opportunities for family fun. Pack a picnic lunch, and pair the outing with a trip to a nearby park or playground. If you have one, consider bringing your dog.
Don’t have time for a full-fledged outing? Challenge your kids to keep their eyes open while you are out and about doing something else. I bet they (or you) will spot something interesting on your next walk, bike ride, or errand run.
My book, What’s That, Mom?: How to use public art to engage your children with the world around them… without being an artist yourself, is full of tips like these for making public art sightings fun for your entire family.
What’s That, Mom? provides 15 accessible, practical strategies for using public art to spark conversations with children between the ages of 3 and 10 — no artistic talent or insight required. What’s That, Mom? is available at Bookshop.org and Amazon. There’s even a journal to go with it so that your kids can sketch their favorite works of art and you can record your favorite moments from your outing.
NOTE: The above paragraph contains affiliate links to Bookshop.org, an online bookstore that provides financial support to local, independent bookstores. At the time I wrote this post, Bookshop.org had already raised $12.8m for local bookstores. If you use the link in the previous paragraph to purchase my book on Bookshop.org, I’ll earn a commission on your book purchase, as will your preferred independent bookshop. You can also find my book in the new Caterpickles Bookstore. Regardless of whether you use my links or visit the Caterpickles Bookstore, thank you for spending part of your day reading Caterpickles. Learn more about Affiliate Links, the Caterpickles Bookstore, and why I decided to become a Bookshop.org Affiliate.
Happy public art hunting!
- When Art Comes Along for the Ride (New York Times)
- At Transbay Transit Center, buses coming up the ramp trigger geysers in the park (San Francisco Chronicle)
- Transbay Transit Center closure: Here’s what we know (Curbed San Francisco)
- Transbay Transit Center (TJPA)
- Firefly by Ned Kahn (Americans for the Arts)
- A compendium of posts on the The Dedham Public Art Project, the public art project that originally inspired my book on using public art to spark conversations with your children, What’s That, Mom? (Caterpickles)
- More Caterpickles posts on public art installations around the country
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