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Sculpture at Phipps links art and sustainability

| Friday, April 18, 2014, 6:11 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Artist Dee Briggs with her sculpture 6|6|3 rings at her studio in Wilkinsburg on April 11, 2014.

Dee Briggs has discovered a hidden benefit to creating a sculpture for the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Garden.

“It is nice to have a work where you live because you can go over and see it every now and again,” says the sculptor, who has done work in places such as the Navy Pier in Chicago.

She has designed “6|3|3 Rings,” which is being installed in the atrium of the award-winning building at Phipps in Oakland.

Phipps Executive Director Richard Piacentini says the sculpture was sought for the site as a way of symbolizing “the way Phipps has shown the interconnection of various aspects of nature for 100 years now.”

He says the sculpture will be a centerpiece at the “Bowties & Butterflies” gala April 24, which also will feature an art-and-photography exhibit being installed at the center.

Piacentini and Briggs agree “6|3|3 Rings” is a sculptural representation of biophelia, or the instinctive bond between humans and other forms of life.

Briggs says the work, which is made of steel and is about 25 feet long and 6 to 8 feet wide, creates that interconnection though the use of panels that do not appear to be connected from some angles but do from others.

The work also makes use of the concept of chirality, or asymmetry, in which an object is not the same as its mirror image.

Such an intriguing work would appear to reflect the thinking of Piacentini, who says he wants the center to continue to grow and change in what it offers visitors.

“You just don't create a LEED Platinum building and stop,” he says.

The Center for Sustainable Landscapes, a building of education and office sites, opened in 2013 and was awarded LEED Platinum status for its energy efficiency. It has been a steady recipient of other awards, most recently the 2014 Global Best Project Award, which recognizes outstanding design and construction.

The work and its use of steel-oriented design also would seem to reflect the work of a sculptor who has a master's in architecture.

Briggs, whose studio is in Wilkinsburg, grew up in Burgettstown, Washington County, and in West Virginia. She went to City College of New York and got a master's at Yale University in Connecticut, returning to this area in 2003 to teach architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. She stopped teaching full-time in 2007 to concentrate on her sculpture and left teaching entirely in 2010.

She says she first noticed a request for a proposal for the Phipps project in the fall and was surprised at how quickly the conservatory made its decision.

“It was a short time for such a substantial sculpture,” she says. “Often you make a proposal and it is months before you hear anything.”

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

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