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 

Ned Kahn’s interactive art work, Bus Jet Fountain, spouts water when buses travel through the Transbay Transit Center below. (Photo: Peter DaSilva, via the San Francisco Chronicle)

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.

Ned Kahn’s Firefly covers the north wall of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission headquarters at 525 Golden Gate Avenue. (Photo Credit: Ned Kahn via Americans for the Arts.)

Happy public art hunting!

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