Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.

Facilities / Parking

Architecture integrates art with science

December 1, 2009
By Carol Borchert

When laboratory technicians at the Diagnostic Medicine Center examine microbes growing in petri dishes, they see clues to illness. When David Griggs looks at these same petri dishes, he sees art. Now, taken to a grand scale, the colors, shapes, and textures found in unassuming discs of agar have converged to create the artistic backdrop for the DMC.

Art relevant to people working in building

David Griggs, the artist commissioned to design the artwork for the new Diagostic Medicine Center.

"One of the more artful techniques used in DMC lab work involves analyzing  samples by spreading organic material in petri dishes,” said Griggs, the Denver artist commissioned to design the artwork for the Diagnostic Medicine Center.

“This is called ‘streaking plates’ and it results in the growth of bacteria or viruses, sometimes in exotic and beautiful formations.”

State dedicated to public art 

Griggs’ association with Colorado State University started when he was selected to create the artwork that would be integrated into the DMC’s architectural design.

Art projects in public buildings became law in 1977 when the Colorado General assembly passed the Art in Public Places Act, requiring allocation of 1 percent of capital construction funds for new or renovated state buildings for the acquisition of works of art for the project site. These art acquisitions form the state art collection.

Swipe patterns seen as 'celestial'

Griggs began his creative process by visiting the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at Colorado State University to gain a better understanding of the work undertaken there. He was captivated immediately by the preparation of samples, swipe patterns in petri dishes, and how these patterns and colors taken to a larger scale become almost celestial in nature.

The decision had been made early on to integrate artwork into the building’s structure, in part to extend the budget and art dollar, and Griggs began to interpret his ideas into the mediums of floors, glass, and trellises.

The atrium terrazzo floor is a colorful collage of overlapping petri dishes.

“One of the design considerations for Art in Public Places is to make the art relevant  to people working in the facility,” said Griggs.

Five main art areas

At the Diagnostic Medicine Center, the art relevance is expressed in five main art areas: 

  • atrium terrazzo floor
  • interior ‘egg’ glass curtain wall
  • exterior link glass
  • atrium trellis planters
  • exterior hardscape paving pattern

Collage of overlapping petri dishes

Griggs designed the building’s terrazzo floor first, building a colorful collage of abstract overlapping petri dishes, with details down to the numbers used to label individual dishes.

The overscaling of these images changes the dimensions of the design, suggesting celestial bodies and astronomical phenomena. While vastly different in proportion, Griggs noted, these natural elements share similar patterns of growth. 

The artwork in the Diagnostic Medicine Center is integrated into the building's structure -- done in part, to extend the budget and art dollars.

Looking at the floor from the building’s second or third level brings the concept of the design to full realization.

Glasswork continues concept

Bacterial growth and laboratory testing mediums were further expanded in the glass that forms one of the walls of the stacked conference rooms located on the eastern side of the building’s atrium.

The glasswork continues into the corridor that connects the Diagnostic Medicine Center to the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

The final interior art element is a two-story high structural trellis that replicates in metal upward swipes that form the patterns in growing mediums.

Exterior paving also reflects pattern

Finally, the building’s exterior paving pattern reflects the patterns found within.

“This was an amazing project to work on, with so much support from everyone on the building’s design committee,” said Griggs.

“As an artist, watching the transformation take place from design concept to installed artwork is incredibly gratifying.”


Originally published in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Fall 2009 Insight newsletter.