You won’t see forensic morphology on the University of Washington’s official list of academic departments. But if you look closely, you’ll find a small plaque on Parrington Lawn noting the “Department of Forensic Morphology Annex.”
Department of what? Morphology: the study of form. Forensic: referring to criminal evidence. “I believe the field of forensic morphology is still in its infancy, but as it matures, I imagine it will focus on examining forms for evidence,” says Cris Bruch, the artist behind the stainless-steel sculpture behind William H. Gates Hall. Inspired by the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory and the F.K. Kirsten Wind Tunnel Building, Bruch picked a tucked-away patch of Parrington Lawn for the piece, which was commissioned by the UW through the Washington State Art Collection. Through a cut in the exterior, you can even see a star map as a nod to the observatory.
“I felt some affection for the observatory and wind tunnel buildings for years,” Bruch says. “They’re small, unassuming, relatively hidden gems, and I’m drawn to the type of work that goes on in them.”
Bruch’s work is one of several on campus funded by Washington’s Art in Public Places program, including the canoe paddles in front of the Burke Museum (“Guests From the Great River,” 2020), the “Bench for Meditation” (1982) outside the School of Social Work and the maze-like gathering spaces outside the Henry Art Gallery called “9 Spaces 9 Trees” (2007). With its dome-like structure of non-standardized shapes, “Department” took many months to build before it arrived on campus in 2004.
“We had never attempted anything like it,” says Bruch, who worked with a team from Fabrication Specialties on the sculpture. “I swore I would never subject them or myself to anything like it again, but we were all really pleased with how it turned out.”
Bruch lives on Vashon Island and is an important figure in public art throughout the Northwest. While his art-museum exhibits contain pieces made from fiber cement, blown glass or wood, his outdoor pieces are large (“Department” is 28 feet long) and typically made of stainless steel.
“It’s made of strong material, since public sculpture has to be able to withstand occasional assaults from drunk guys climbing on it and doing the Macarena or whatever.”
As far as office hours go, the “Department of Forensic Morphology Annex” is open 24/7. The soft and hazy finish of the sculpture plays well with light, rain or shine. Bruch suggests visiting “on a sunny autumn day with blue skies and golden leaves. But everything looks great on those days.”