Ned Kahn is Creating Prairie Tree: Iconic Work for Nicollet Mall

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for! Blog posts over the next six weeks will feature design proposals by three artists who are creating new works especially for Nicollet Mall: Ned Kahn, Blessing Hancock and Tristan Al-Haddad. The designs will be introduced here in the blog and then you may follow them on the Artist’s Process pages where I’ll be posting updates including studio visits, conversations with the artists, photographs and videos as they work through the details of fabricating and installing their works.
– Regina Flanagan

Ned Kahn Nicollet Mall Proposal

I call these artworks “registers” for they reveal the effects of the invisible. –Ned Kahn

Ned Kahn has designed an iconic artwork, Prairie Tree, to be installed before the end of the year on Nicollet Mall between 10th and 11th Streets on the east side of Nicollet in front of WCCO.

Ned describes Prairie Tree:

For the past 20 years, I have created large-scale public artworks that increase people’s awareness of natural phenomena. Using materials such as water, wind, fog and light, I create contemplative oases in urban environments – places where people can reconnect with the larger forces of nature. Blurring the boundaries between art, science, architecture and nature fascinates me.

In recent years, I completed a series of artworks that reveal invisible forces in their sites by converting natural flow patterns such as wind into the pixelated motion of many small parts. I call these artworks “registers” for they reveal the effects of the invisible. The normally unseen patterns of the wind are complex and entrancing. The psychological effect is similar to watching a fire, waves on a lake, or tall grasses swaying in the wind.

Most of my previous installations have been integrated into the vertical facades of buildings. For Nicollet Mall, I am inspired by the idea of a horizontal plane that would reveal the invisible air. Prairie Tree is intended to suggest a hybrid between a tree and a field of prairie grasses. The upper surface of the artwork will be covered with a dense array of anodized aluminum vanes to register the changing conditions of the wind and sky. The thousands of wind-animated elements will reflect light and sky in a manner similar to the surface of a lake, or a field of tall grasses. Sunlight passing through the reflective array will cast intricate patterns of moving light and shadow onto the ground, filling the immediate environment with a relaxing undulating light.

The movement of the vanes will be similar to a tensioned-cable artwork I created for a rooftop garden at a school in Santa Monica. See video.

Read more about Prairie Tree’s technical and structural details and the considerations that go into creating public art on Ned’s Artist’s Process page.

Thursday, March 23rd at 7:00 – 9:00 pm, Ned will talk with local artists, scientists and city planners during a Give and Take event. Join us at Water Bar & Public Studio, 2516 Central Avenue NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418.


Introducing the Nicollet Mall
Public Artists

The Wave, Target Field, Minneapolis. Ned Kahn


The mystery of this strange world we live in—we get used to it. We stop realizing how amazing it is, because it becomes commonplace. What can I do as an artist that can gently pop people out of that state of mind and get them to see differently or clearly, even just for an instant? – interview with Arlene Goldbard, 2011.

If you’ve taken in a Twins game at Target Field, chances are you’ve seen and experienced one of Ned’s works. The Wave effectively disguises a parking garage, and forms an animated backdrop for the entry plaza to the ballpark. Comprised of thousands of counter-weighted stainless steel flaps or vanes that undulate and shimmer with the slightest breeze, reflect the sky during the day and programmed colored lighting at night, the work needs no explanation – rather, we perceive it with our senses and appreciate the quietly festive ambiance it lends to the space.

Ned holds a degree in environmental science and began his career as an artist when he apprenticed to scientist Frank Oppenheimer at the Exploratorium Museum in San Francisco. He went on to serve 17 years in the Exploratorium’s famous artist-in-residence program; one of the nation’s earliest, started in 1974. He created interactive sculptures inspired by atmospheric physics, geology, astronomy and fluid motion that enabled visitors to observe and interact with these phenomena.

Many recent artworks reveal the way patterns emerge when things flow while activated by the forces of wind, water or light. Ned views these works as crude scientific “sensors” which reveal some invisible or unnoticed phenomena – capturing the mysteriousness of the world around us. He is fascinated with the idea of an artwork becoming a scientific instrument, a register of phenomena, and with blurring the boundaries between art, architecture, science and nature.[1]

Ned presents his work both in scientific settings and in art contexts. His work may be interpreted as educational, as scientific demonstrations, or as aesthetic objects. Asked whether his work is more science or art, he says, “…they’re definitely not scientific experiments, because they’re often much more uncontrolled and complicated… On the other hand, they’re not really artworks in the traditional sense… In the things that I make, even though I’ve created the physical structure, it’s really not me that’s doing the sculpting.”[2]

He maintains a studio with five other artists in Santa Rosa, California and is in the process of designing a large scale, iconic art piece especially for Nicollet Mall. Check Artist’s Process for periodic updates to see Ned’s drawings and models, as they evolve.

To learn more about Ned’s past work and its influences, inspirations and intentions read here

Stealth, Atlanta, Georgia. Tristan Al-Haddad" sizes="(max-width: 584px) 100vw, 584px" data-recalc-dims="1"/>

Stealth, Atlanta, Georgia. Tristan Al-Haddad


Tristan is an architect and visual artist who creates monolithic sculptural forms whose function is not so much to be the centerpiece of a space, but to create a place – their physical scale invites people to pass through them, sit on them, interact with them. The geometric forms shape-shift when viewed from different angles, and from close-up and farther away. He says that his work is, “really about an experiential condition. It’s about the body’s existence in space, and how it makes you feel.”[3]

Finding the right materials to create sculptural forms preoccupies Tristan. To create a sinuous cantilevered portal sculpture for downtown Atlanta, Georgia, he worked with chemists for two years to devise a special mix that was both high-strength and able to flow and compact well, enabling a reinforced concrete structure without a steel skeleton – a very daring and innovative structure.

Tristan’s attention to materials impressed contractor Jason Adams who built the artwork. He has collaborated with architects on many large-scale commercial construction projects and says that most architects will draw something really great, then just throw it in the contractor’s lap – ‘Okay… now build it.’ Tristan is the only architect Jason had ever met who wanted to be a part of every process and he found Tristan’s deep understanding of materials and construction really exceptional.[4]

Formations Studio, Tristan’s creative practice in Atlanta, Georgia, features collaborators across many art and design disciplines, and from a diversity of cultural backgrounds. The studio’s work is focused on projects from the intimate scale of furniture and small objects, to large-scale sculptural environments and architecture. Tristan is an Assistant Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Architecture where he is a research faculty member in the Digital Building Laboratory and the Digital Fabrication Laboratory.

Tristan is designing an engaging monumental form, a key feature on the Mall, to animate the entrance to Central Library. Visit here for periodic updates including models, drawings and animations by the artist.

To learn more about Tristan’s past work and his experiments with new materials read here

Ballroom Luminoso, San Antonio, Texas. Blessing Hancock" sizes="(max-width: 584px) 100vw, 584px" data-recalc-dims="1"/>

Ballroom Luminoso, San Antonio, Texas. Blessing Hancock


Blessing’s work invites you to enter into a relationship. She creates site- and place-specific sculptures that may change color in response to your touch, a sound, or even your heartbeat. You may be able to sit within it, joined by your friends. It glows at night, pulsing with color, or its luminous, translucent forms read against the sky and clouds during the day. Light is the connective thread that runs through her work, and she believes in its ability to enliven a space.

Participation begins during design and continues through the completed artwork; community engagement is an essential part of her working process. Whether supplying sparks during conceptual design that help the artist define the overall direction for the piece, or animating the work once installed through interaction with it – the public plays a key role.

Blessing is creating twelve lighting elements as part of Nicollet Mall’s “light walk” between Sixth and Eighth Streets. Four local emerging writers are working with her: R. Vincent Moniz; Junauda Petrus; Moheb Soliman; and Sagirah Shahid, all of Minneapolis. They will create unique short poems inspired by the Mall and reflecting present-day life in Minneapolis for text to be cut out of the spherical lighting forms.

Inspiration for the Nicollet Mall work comes from Blessing’s Ballroom Luminoso created for an underpass in San Antonio, Texas. A series of six brilliantly lit, color-changing chandeliers constructed of recycled bicycle parts, each sculpture contains a custom-designed LED light fixture which casts sharply detailed overlapping shadows. The piece transforms a forgotten space into one that connects the community and in 2013, won SXSW Eco’s Place by Design “Transformative Design Award”.

This will be Blessing’s second work in Minnesota – her first, commissioned through the State’s Art in Public Places program, is at North Hennepin Community College’s Bioscience and Health Careers Center in Brooklyn Park. Affinities incorporates patterns of science and new technology into contemporary art. The interactive wall sculpture has a surface pattern generated by computational geometries found in both biological and chemical processes. Moveable translucent resin panels enable the public to construct their own connections between educational disciplines within a network of associations; the artwork establishes a formal learning environment that changes with its users.

To learn more about Blessing’s background and studio read here


[1] Anna Makulska, University of Derby, UK. Unpublished interview.
[2] Greenwald, Jeff. “Forces of Nature”, New Scientist, 16 October 2020 (No. 2208).
[3] O’Neil, Gail. “Tristan Al-Haddad’s shape-shifting sculpture “Stealth” enlivens Midtown stretch.” ArtsATL online at:  Visited October 6, 2015.
[4] Ibid., O’Neil. Quote from Jason Adams, Sinclair Construction Group.