The wide lawn of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., has taken on a riot of rainbow hues in a geometric mural designed by artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer.
The installation, titled Equilateral Network, was designed to create spaces for social distancing with its triangular grid. Unpainted sections of lawn provide walking paths, and equilateral triangles lined in pink define spaces for people to sit, separated by six feet of distance.
Thalhammer designed the work in the fall of 2020, when social distancing was a pressing concern. Its opening now coincides with Pride month, creating a colorful new space for gatherings in the newly reopened city.
“I really wanted to do a piece that would help bring a balance and a calm and also a joy and a wonder to the city,” says Thalhammer, who splits her time between D.C. and her native Saint Louis. “You come and you sit in the piece and it shifts the energy of the space.”
To create her design, Thalhammer took inspiration from Pierre L’Enfant, the French-American engineer and city planner who was tasked by George Washington with creating a plan for a new federal district along the Potomac. L’Enfant’s design endures in modern D.C., where wide avenues cut angles across the city’s grid.
Thalhammer was fond of L’Enfant’s use of stars and triangles in his plan for the city – and found herself particularly drawn to the equilateral triangles that took shape in his designs.
“I really love the equilateral triangle as a symbol of justice, as a symbol of balance as it relates to our three bodies of government and how they’re equal,” she says.
Other aspects of Thalhammer’s design came from another source: LGBTQ pride.
The pink triangles in her design have particular meaning, she explains. “Some of it goes back to the Holocaust, of gay people being identified with the pink triangle. And then it was also used in ACT UP in the ’80s when people were protesting against AIDS and not having a vaccine for AIDS. So the use of the pink triangle in this piece, for me, it’s a bit of a reference to that historic identity of justice.”
Then there are the rainbows – a symbol of identity for LGBTQ people, as well as a symbol of diversity. Thalhammer’s palette is a 12-color spectrum, which she says represents the intersection of people’s lived identities.
“We’re very rarely just one thing as people, as humans. We’re normally a variety of different identities that all come together and I think they’re all beautiful,” says Thalhammer, who identifies as pansexual.
Using a giant protractor mat, she set out the lines she had sketched first on paper. She marked lines with pink twine, aided by the street team from the Downtown DC Business Improvement District. A crew from the museum helped spray the special non-toxic paint onto the design using a spray paint machine. Another machine painted the lines, in the same manner lines are painted onto a football field.
Thalhammer’s mural will be in place into the summer. Like hair that’s been dyed, the painted design will grow out over time — to keep it fresh, the work will be repainted as the colored blades of grass are mowed.
Thalhammer hopes that people will walk through the space, work out, do yoga and meditate there. And she wants it to be a place where people can gather, in a year when many of the typical Pride events are canceled.
“I hope people get dressed up in fabulous gay pride attire and do photos there,” she says.