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November 21, 2019

3 projects that show how unique context can inspire unique design

  • New artworks and graphics at Gonzaga, Stanford and the University of Idaho respond to each school’s specific characteristics and built environments.


    At Knot, we take an informed approach to every design — responding with extreme sensitivity to environmental contexts.

    This is particularly true in our college and university projects, where designers are presented with a unique opportunity to respond to a higher calling.

    What drives our designs for colleges and universities are careful considerations of not only the institution’s brand, but also the role the designs will play in fostering collaborations between students, educators, staff and visitors.

    Knot’s core offerings, in addition to landscape architecture, include experiential graphic design and wayfinding. Within each discipline, we work at the intersection of science, art and technology.

    Our designs are shaped through an anti-disciplinary approach, in which the Knot problem-solvers encourage the co-mingling of ideas across disciplines. We call this the entanglement of ideas.

    The result of this collaboration can be found in a variety of higher education projects Knot has been involved in, such as the Bass Biology Research Building at Stanford, the John J. Hemmingson Center at Gonzaga University, and University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome.

    A two-story interactive art piece in Stanford’s Bass Biology Research Building takes inspiration from mathematician Alan Turing.


    At the heart of Stanford’s new science quad, the Bass Biology Research Building is designed to encourage a new level of cooperation and research between scientific disciplines. The 133,000-sqaure-foot building joins faculty and biology labs under one roof — uniting faculty and students who previously were spread out over several buildings on campus.

    The building, designed by Flad Architects and Ennead Architects, features “Morphogenesis,” an interactive art piece for which Knot contributed technological and material mediums such as custom software applications.

    “Morphogenesis” is a first-of-its kind interactive art piece hovering over the entrance to the building — a two-story media mesh screen that digitally translates touch-screen interactions by visitors into a larger-than-life display. The storytelling within “Morphogenesis” is based on a model by Alan Turing, describing how spots and stripes are developed through biological systems.

    We sought a non-literal media to display the inner workings of molecular and cellular biologists. The end result is a display that serves as a beacon on campus, promoting intellectual and social interactions in an abstract way. Our goal was to engage the client from day one, and through a series of workshops that included faculty and students, an experimental idea became an experiential component of the Stanford campus.

    Photos provided by Knot [enlarge]
    Stairway walls in Hemmingson Center have graphics with unique typefaces for Gonzaga-inspired words such as “spirituality” and “creativity.”

    Murals in Gonzaga’s Hemmingson Center highlight concepts of spirituality and international travel.

    Gonzaga placemaking

    The institutional mission of educating the “body, mind and spirit” of all Gonzaga University students drove Knot’s placemaking, wayfinding and donor recognition program at the John J. Hemmingson Center.

    The Hemmingson Center is a central gathering spot for students and faculty at Gonzaga — allowing Knot the privilege of showcasing the Gonzaga experience. The literal interpretation of that experience emerges with Knot-designed placemaking graphics that cover four levels of stairway walls — employing unique typefaces for the Gonzaga-inspired words “spirituality” and “creativity.”

    A donor wall reflecting a hierarchy of giving employs the use of metal and acrylic to reflect the importance of donations to institutional advancement. Another wall in the Hemmingson Center uses photos and lettering on a bronze background with Gonzaga-inspired phrases such as “Educating the whole person.”

    Team spirit

    The University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome project called upon our designers to further UI team spirit through large-scale wall graphics and donor messages. Respect of place shaped our drive toward the client’s desire for adding visual energy — a component important for any sports-related center.

    Large-scale wall graphics add team spirit in University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome.

    We highlighted past and present team success and marked the return of sports to the multipurpose facility after a several-year renovation. The UI Vandals team spirit was a central theme spelled out with large-scale graphics, in addition to a donor wall and visual celebrations of the many teams who have celebrated victories in the dome.

    In each project, design-driven solutions reflect the critical connections between built environments and unique campus characteristics. Solutions varied from the more abstract, interactive “Morphogenesis” installation, controlled by visitors at kiosks at Stanford, to placemaking work reflecting the Jesuit-inspired vision of Gonzaga University’s founders.

    All designs require careful consideration and a high level of dedication to the development of a shared language with clients discovered through meaningful feedback. The uniquely aspirational principles and goals of colleges and universities demand our designers’ deep understanding and respect of place — the key drivers behind our design philosophy.

    This engagement with higher education stakeholders inspires Knot’s entanglement of ideas, giving rise to conscientious, designed experiences that are more than the sum of their parts.

    Marilee Hanks, owner and principal at the Portland landscape architecture/experiential graphic design firm Knot, is passionate about shaping the human experience of place and reinforcing the natural systems that sustain us.

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