Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Faces & Places: Livability, design merge with “Art Is Architecture.”

A part of the exhibit, “Art Is Architecture,” now on display in downtown Harrisburg.

If you have a keen eye, you may have spotted something curious while driving by the corner of N. 2nd and Pine streets in downtown Harrisburg.

There, you’ll see a few large faces, alongside several beautifully rendered building interiors, in the windows of a rather nondescript, mid-century office building.

And you may have wondered: “What is this about?”

Well, it’s about architecture. And art.

Up on the building’s seventh floor, Chris Dawson Architect has its offices, and the firm’s namesake owner decided to use the empty storefront below to house a temporary art exhibit called “Architecture Is Art.”

“We hope to make people think about architecture a little differently, that there is an artistic side to it,” Dawson said. “When it’s done well, it really elevates the places where we live.”

As part of the exhibit inside, you’ll find numerous 2-D and 3-D representations of projects that Dawson’s firm has undertaken in its nine-year history, along with explanations of the work and related exhibits.

Some of the work might be familiar to you, such as Harristown’s F@TT apartment building, which sits atop the El Sol restaurant in downtown’s SoMa neighborhood, or the recently restored King Mansion on Front Street, space now occupied by K&W Engineers.

Chris Dawson stands before a stylized map of the Harrisburg area.

Dawson said that a confluence of factors led to him to turn the space into a short-term, summertime gallery. The storefront has been empty since Capitol Copy departed more than a year ago, and he wanted a fun project for his four summer interns. Meanwhile, his company soon will mark its 10th anniversary, creating an occasion to reflect back on its work over its first decade in business.

But, mostly, he wanted visitors to see that architecture can be not only functional, but aesthetically pleasing, positively affecting those who live, work or visit it. So, he approached the building’s landlord, Select Capital, which endorsed the idea.

The building’s exterior previews the exhibit inside.

Dawson said that he also wanted to show off Harrisburg and the ways that great design can be incorporated into the city’s historic built environment.

“I think that Harrisburg is the most beautiful of the cities in our region,” he said. “I’m not saying there aren’t scars or things that need to be addressed, but Harrisburg is a gem architecturally. That’s why we’re here.”

Dawson’s firm might be here for the long-term, but the exhibit won’t be. After a soft opening last Friday, it will only be up through next week, giving visitors a limited window to see how, in recent years, some Harrisburg buildings have been able to combine the historic, the functional and the beautiful.

“We believe that good design is for everybody,” Dawson said. “We’d like to get people to think more about the importance of architecture.”

“Art Is Architecture” is located at 300 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg, ground floor. The exhibit runs over the next two weeks, Tuesday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., closing following 3rd in the Burg, Aug. 17. Watch this video for a brief exhibit preview.


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