New art project, 'Collisions,' approved for downtown Palo Alto

Series of transparent walls to bring element of surprise to Palo Alto pedestrians, birds

Editor's note: Happy April Fools' Day!

Come September, 2015, downtown Palo Alto pedestrians will be bumping into art – literally.

The city's latest public art project, "Collisions Palo Alto," got the go-ahead from the Public Art Commission at its March 19 meeting. The project, designed by San Francisco-based industrial installation artist Avril Foux, consists of a series of 14 transparent Plexiglas walls ranging from 15 to 24 feet tall. Thanks to cutting-edge military technology, the walls will be nearly impossible to see from certain angles. The structures will be installed at key locations throughout the University Avenue area. Because the walls will be nearly invisible when approached at a 90-degree angle, some passersby will find themselves suddenly brought up short.

"Collisions" now moves forward to design refinement, engineering and fabrication. Installation is estimated to begin in mid-August.

In approving the project, commissioners noted its "out-of-the-box" approach to encouraging the public engage with art, and praised its "refreshing" sense of humor.

"I can't wait to see what out-of-town guests will say when they run into 'Collisions' for the first time," enthused Commission Chair Jim Migdal. "This is going to be one memorable series of sculptures. I think we're really going to put Palo Alto on the public art map with this one."

Elise de Marzo, Palo Alto's public art manager, noted that "Collisions" might actually help shift the culture of Palo Alto, which many decry as highly pressurized.

"Here in the heart of the Silicon Valley, we're very focused on business innovation and achievement, and we tend to move through life quite rapidly without taking the time to stop and notice where we are," de Marzo said. "My hope is that 'Collisions' will encourage all who come in contact with it to slow down a little."

Following the January 2014 passage of the Public Art in Private Development Ordinance, the businesses on whose property the walls are to be constructed submitted a joint proposal to the Public Art Commission for approval. Due to the intended surprise element of the project, the City has chosen not to make the exact locations public until two months after the erection of the structures. Funding for "Collisions," which is currently estimated at $1.2 million, will be provided entirely by the developers, not by the city.

Among the most outspoken critics of the project is Shannon Klein of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. Klein was unable to attend the March 19 meeting, but has filed a formal complaint with the City. "We've long advocated for an architectural ordinance that would prevent needless bird deaths," she wrote.

"'Collisions' should be an outrage to anyone concerned with the welfare of our avian friends: our most vulnerable population," Klein wrote in her letter.

Defenders of the project claim the impact on birds would be similar to that on humans: a light wake-up call rather than a true threat.

"Coming into contact with art unexpectedly is an experience we should all welcome," argued Palo Alto Art Center director Karen Keinzle, who has taken to referring to the project affectionately as "Smack" and has incorporated the idea into spring art workshops at the Art Center, where students age 4 to 84 can enroll in a new installation art class titled, "Smack into Art."

"A little creative collision is not going to be fatal for anyone," Keinzle said. "Frankly, we haven't had so much fun with an art project in years."

Even some of the council's leading slow-growth advocates have expressed their support for "Collisions." Although Mayor Karen Holman and council members Eric Filseth and Tom DuBois have been outspoken critics of rampant development, all three said they they're excited about the lesson of "Collisions," a message Holman expressed this way: "Slow down. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of our community. Sure, it might bruise your ego a little. But then you'll shake it off and keep shopping."

To learn more about "Collisions Palo Alto," go to or call 650-123-4567.

Staff Writer Lois Lane contributed to this report.


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8 people like this
Posted by SavetheBirds
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2015 at 8:50 am

[Portion removed.]

“Collisions” is a pity, a shame, a shunde. With such a blatant disregard for our avian friends, it’s time the City of Palo Alto created a new city department devoted to their welfare. “Avianists” arise!

1 person likes this
Posted by KilltheBirds
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2015 at 8:52 am

Message to SavetheBirds: OK, you won the battle over the bridge to the Baylands, give it up on this superb art installation. This is an opportunity for everyone in town to take a breath and pause to appreciate just how great our downtown is.

13 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 1, 2015 at 11:14 am

Child running. "Mommy Mommy can I have ice cream?" WHAM!

Hello lawsuit.

12 people like this
Posted by Rodger D. Dodger
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 1, 2015 at 11:19 am

Who needs plexiglas? Somnambulant iPhone addicts and sidewalk bicyclists have been implementing small-c-no-quotes collisions for years.

2 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 1, 2015 at 11:42 am

muttiallen is a registered user.

Just what PA needs -- another acronym. HAFD!

24 people like this
Posted by Well Done
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 1, 2015 at 11:43 am

And a happy April Fools Day to you too Palo Alto Online.

7 people like this
Posted by Street Art Lover
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 1, 2015 at 11:55 am

Avril Foux? Great name for an artist.

8 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2015 at 2:11 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

This art project is an insult to Palo Alto. Palo Alto is *the* world center of technology and innovation and must serve as an example, if not inspiration, to the nation and the world. Plexiglass is *so* last-century--the project should be using force-fields. And it should be powered by sidewalks and streets designed to recover energy from passing foot and vehicle traffic.

Like this comment
Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2015 at 2:40 pm

Let's send all the birds with broken necks to the artist! Better yet, how about sending them to whomever approved this farce. Interactive art should not be able to hurt people or animals/birds.

20 people like this
Posted by Shani Kleinhaus
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 1, 2015 at 3:16 pm

I am honored to be selected for an Avril Faux joke - so is Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society

Shani Kleinhaus (AKA Shannon Klein)
Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society

2 people like this
Posted by Vasundhara Kandpal
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 1, 2015 at 3:53 pm

I guess Developers have too much money to spend on stupid things.
why don't they utilize their money by doing something worthwhile for conservation. Studies show that in 2014 for the first in millions of years, Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in atmosphere has crossed 400ppm. Instead of installing art why don't they plant trees - it will serve humans in every way and would also serve birds, this one planet and our coming generations!!!

Like this comment
Posted by InvisibleSteps
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2015 at 10:53 am

Perhaps we could go with other things that are invisible besides walls to run into. Maybe invisible sticky or smelly things to step on for our next installments? Great trend!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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