Local architect illustrates Oklahoma City's history through art installation 

click to enlarge An art installation by Adam Lanman went up at OCU Law Center plaza downtown in Oklahoma City, Friday, July 1, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • An art installation by Adam Lanman went up at OCU Law Center plaza downtown in Oklahoma City, Friday, July 1, 2016.

What’s the difference between art and architecture?

Maybe it’s functionality. A beautifully rendered building that leaks and floods every time it rains isn’t worth much in the long run (think Stage Center).

Maybe it’s engineering. After all, when a project starts to require a master’s degree in engineering and a working knowledge of stainless steel’s tensile strength, most artists tend to let something less exacting capture their attention (think SkyDance Bridge).

Oklahoma City artist and architect Adam Lanman isn’t too interested in clearing up the distinctions between his two passions. He’s interested in erasing the lines altogether.

“When I’m talking to other architects, I do like to consider myself an artist,” Lanman said when asked which title he prefers. “But if there is a difference, it’s that at its heart, architecture is about events. Both can be beautiful and affect an environment in a certain way, but architecture is about people coming together to share that space for specific reasons. That’s why I’m having trouble recognizing this project as art or architecture.”

The project Lanman is referring to is Skyline: Timeline, a series of 20-foot-tall, multicolored, cube-shaped panels hovering over Oklahoma City University School of Law, 800 N. Harvey Ave., in Midtown. A project funded by Downtown OKC, Inc. and installed June 22, the canvas panels serve as a literal timeline that marks major Oklahoma City events over the past 60 years.

“It’s really cool to come out here sometimes and see kids studying here, people hanging out with their friends up here, walking their dogs,” Lanman said. “I think it’s created an energy that has changed this space for the better, and at the end of the day, that’s what both art and architecture are about: creating a profound experience for the viewer or the inhabitant.”

Each year from 1960 to 2015 has its own panel, and each of the six towers stands for a decade. Red signifies new buildings in OKC’s skyline, and yellow means that year was significant for a reason having to do with arts or culture. White represents acts of God, including tornadoes. Blue represents major policy changes, and green stands for economic breakthroughs.

“It’s quite literally a timeline, and I’m pleased with it because the project was mainly about change,” Lanman said. “It’s a temporary project; it’s coming down soon. So it’s not only marking the change the city has seen in the past six decades, but I think it symbolizes the renaissance the city has gone through recently, because it probably wouldn’t even be here otherwise. From an execution standpoint, I’m really happy with it. This is what I wanted it to be, and you can’t always say that about a project.”

Lanman, who has worked on at least three other metro-area installations over the past few years, laughed when asked if he could point to a specific panel and name the event that determined its hue.

“Well, yeah, I probably could, but I know other people can’t,” he said. “That’s why we created skylinetimeline.com, so people could go to the site and check out the project in a more detailed way.”

On the website, viewers discover the biggest story of 1957 was when Oklahoma’s wheat crop hit an all-time low. In 1966, 26 public school teachers resigned after a six-month investigation by the state attorney general for “homosexual activities.” Elvis and the Grateful Dead both played here in 1973. The steel framing for 1995’s panel is black.

It’s a remarkable visual representation of the city’s history, one that Lanman said might have crossed the border from art to architecture, at least as far as engineering goes.

“Oh man, the first three months were straight engineering,” said Lanman, 43, who earned a master’s degree in architecture from Cornell University and taught architecture history at the University of Oklahoma. “I mean, these are 20 feet tall; I didn’t want them to fall over and hurt someone. They had to withstand rain, blowing winds and storms. They had to withstand the elements and the sun. All of that had to be taken into consideration right alongside the artistic side of it.”

However, it’s a line Lanman enjoys blurring and will continue to try and smudge out altogether.

“It’s about place-making, or creating an environment in a place where none existed before,” he said. “I like to think that this project is a good example of that. It’s not exactly architecture, but it is a structural creation that creates at atmosphere, I think. And I also think it’s art, because they’re not walls. You’re among them. They’re meant to be looked at.

“So maybe there is a difference between art and architecture. I just hope I can keep trying to make it so there’s no difference at all.”

Print headline: Constructing history, Adam Lanman’s Skyline: Timeline installation at OCU School of Law artfully tells the story of Oklahoma City.

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