Designing Optimism at the Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation moved into its new headquarters in 2011, but the occupants still had big plans for their campus. The Foundation began envisioning an iconic art piece that could tie the two campus buildings together and live at the heart of the campus.

The foundation worked with artist Janet Echelman for three years from idea to unveiling. The result was the “Impatient Optimist,” a sculpture named after Bill Gates’ biography published in 2012. In February 2015 a Sellen team installed the sculpture, which now hangs between the two U-shaped buildings above the campus courtyard.

The artist sought to represent a healthy productive life as seeing each day in its fullest color, so she took a 24-hour time-lapse of the Seattle sky and graphed its color saturation radially as a 3-dimensional form. Knots are meant to represent the number of lives that can be affected by a single person — the impact that an individual working for the Foundation can make.

“It’s something you need to look up at; it’s aspirational representing possibility,” explained Lynn Perkins, the Foundation’s senior project manager, “it’s optimism.”

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