Leni Schwendinger on camera

The urban nighttime environment is a dark canvas that humans have created – our previously daytime oriented “clocks” have been extended into the night.

Lighting designers work with architects, engineers and landscape architects to illuminate city structures – including buildings, bridges, parks – to make these places visible and safe to walk at night.

But, before that act of design, there should be an urban -planning and -design phase to determine how the public spaces of our cities will be lit.  This intersection of lighting and urban design interests me.  It is important to merge the ideas of urban design with public lighting design – taking the uses of buildings, pedestrian and transportation patterns into account.  Street-scape design — street alignments, curbs, medians and street furniture — sets the stage for public lighting. I am not just talking about utility lighting – I am looking at creative lighting that exposes the built environment at night – promoting legibility (“where am I”?) but also illumination practices that encourage public connections and conversations and more usage of our sidewalks and public life.

Public Lighting Video Storyboard

Urban designer Brian McGrath and I have developed classifications of light in the public realm.

Public lighting is provided by the city or utility as the very basic in safety lighting.  It is augmented by private sources of lighting – significantly, cars themselves with their headlights.  Additionally shop windows, displays and various types of commercial buildings provide light on the sidewalk to help pedestrians find their way cheerfully and safely.

Finally the phone booths, bus shelters, light billboards and even ATMs provide what I call “found” lighting.

In addition to “designed” lighting, emergent — undesigned — systems develop as site-specific “unplanned” lighting.  Light added by users, inhabitants, building owners, etc. can help the designer understand the needs of a neighborhood by documenting the incidental additions of light.

In mid-October Light Projects will release a short video tape produced by TVGals – an on-the-street light walk – where I will reveal the concepts of public, private and found lighting in depth.

Washington Sq-newly renovated 2009

July 19 — Washington Square park

Walking home, in the warm breezes of this summer’s evening — Washington Square Park is alive! It seems more than one and one-half years that the variously located chain-link fences have kept us from crossing the square diagonally as required by Greenwich Village bohemian legacy.  And the fear, the anticipation that the beloved park would be spiffed up beyond recognition is finally quelled.  The fountain is huge, splashy, easily accessible, and centered on the Arch, allowing, as per NYC Parks and Recreation, “approximately 20 percent increase in unpaved green space”.  The stone benches are smooth and inviting.  And apparently we still have a rebuilt playground and dog runs and a performance space to look forward to.  Also,

… the final phase will include a new park house with a new comfort station for the public and space for the Parks maintenance staff.

Hopper/Kertész/Pène du Bois ("Chess Tables")

Hopper/Kertész/Pène du Bois ("Chess Tables")

The first fountain was built in 1852, the permanent arched monument to president Washington, in 1892.  Hard to believe that traffic once rolled through the park, and 20th century historical figures like Robert Moses and Jane Jacob’s clashed there.

I do romanticize about the Village I never knew – of ballads and beatniks in the early part of last century – every time I cross the park.

Matt Peterson, Shukov's Tower, Leni, Cassim Shepard and musician

Matt Peterson, Shukov's Tower, Leni, Cassim Shepard and musician

July 20 — Broadway Boogie Woogie: A City Unfinished at Brecht Forum

This post starts as a story about Facebook.  I “fanned” Urban Omnibus the online organ of Architectural League.  A film series, “Right to the City” caught my attention, so I disseminated the information to my Facebook friends and fans. Arriving super early, to get a front row seat, I had an opportunity to meet Matt Peterson, the Red Channels AV curator, himself.  While chatting on a bar stool (sorry, no refreshments) I recalled my high-school days in Berkeley – as founder of Solidarity Films, a film distribution company with offices on Channing Way just off Telegraph Ave.  The chutzpah! Young and dedicated to the idea of film as agent of change, my best friend and I rented out 16mm films to colleges and independent exhibitors – cleaning, tracking, repairing… and tried to build a mobile film truck for outdoor film showings.

Later, I encountered Cassim Shepard, the project director of Urban Omnibus. Mr. Shepard is involved in visual media, as well as the printed word, about architecture and urbanism.  In his preview, he enjoined the reader to attend the silent double feature – six shorts made from 1903-1948 on New York City and a 59 minute feature, Moscow – accompanied by the Citizens Ontological Music Agenda.

Anyone with an interest in how the analysis and representation of New York’s built environment has changed in the past century should not miss this three-part event…. and as a special treat, after taking in some beautiful New York city films, stay for part two to check out Kaufman’s 1927 film Moscow. – Cassim Shepard, Urban Omnibus

Moscow WAS as thrilling as the early NYC films, I translated what I could using my Berkeley High School Russian sounding out the Cyrillic.  The breathtaking moment was an ACTUAL SHOT of artist-engineer Shukov’s 1922-built radio tower. (Please see the spectacular 360-degree, interactive shot by Andrey Ilyin – from and onto the tower – here)

I look forward to seeing you at the August 3rd screening: Bridges and Tunnels: Art and Efficiency.

Chess NYC at Herald Square

Chess NYC at Herald Square

July 24 — Chess NYC at Herald Square (and mid-town’s Broadway pedestrianization)

I was walking at high velocity to my Tai Chi class, choosing to walk in the road – the new pedestrian haven of midtown Broadway, Manhattan.  To my right and left – home-grown sun umbrellas, pebbled-pavement and people sunning, talking, on the phone, reading – right in the center of Broadway! I walked by a giant chess set and checkerboard-festooned red tables [only just registering… hmm caught the traffic light]…. hmm – wasn’t that amazing?  A quick pirouette and I turned back to the spectacle of children and adults of ethnic and racial variety concentrating on chess games… right in the street.  I spoke to a man in charge; Mr. Ahmed.  He told me the story, New York City Chess  started on 112th and Broadway to enjoy chess, conversation, and community.  They formed an itinerant crew, setting up further and further down Broadway, then they got a grant… now there are eight on staff!

From there we began to organize and see an opportunity to bring people together through chess. We ran tournaments, offered lessons, and developed merchandise that represented our vision. Chess is a perfect combination of body, mind, and soul! People of all races, ages, genders, and social status can sit across the 64 squares and be perfect equals. This concept epitomizes life in New York City.  — from the Chess NYC website

Ahmed appeared to be writing and reading a foreign language dictionary.  When asked if he was studying, he explained, that he was “pursuing intellectual freedom”.  The street, chess and reading seem a perfect blend of subversive, an antidote to Sex in the City.
pedestrianization - Herald Square And Chess NYC would not have a prime middle-of-the-street venue, if it was not for 34th Street Partnership, Herald Square’s Business Improvement District, and New York City Department of Transportation‘s “Green Light for Midtown” plan, a pilot project to pedestrianize Broadway with the aim to improve midtown congestion and safety.

Dixon Place-walk

July 26 — John Kelly and Carol Lipnik, “The Escape Artist“, at Dixon Place

The rain was sheeting and spitting and the sun was glaring and lightning struck.  The Manhattanite’s summer dilemma, should we get tickets to a friend’s show – even if it is raining? Off to see The Escape Artist, Caravaggio meets Contemporary Art Song + Video.

“The Escape Artist” considers the parallels between the unbridled creative spirit of the urban artist of the 17th and 21st centuries. — from the program

The fully equipped 120-person theatre has been recently constructed.  The spaciousness, sound reinforcement and simple setting supported a mesmerizing performance.  Mr. Kelly, playing a cast of Carvaggio’s painterly subjects, interacted with himself on screen – the tilt of a head, a simple red folded wrap… these gestures sparked immediate recognition.

Sitting toward center, stage-right of the band, Ms. Lipnik, swayed with the music and vocalized in haunting harmonic phrases.

Kelly-Lipnik at Dixon Place

We took the subway, the B-train, to the show and walked home, in the shadowy rain and lightning.

*dérive

One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll. In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones. — Theory of the Dérive by Guy-Ernest Debord

Meatpack-collage

May 17th – Meatpacking District Design ’09

An unusual breezy Sunday.  We met at the Standard Hotel. Quietly thrilling to walk a few blocks to the glass-slab building which reflects light from the Hudson River from two directions – slightly south and slightly north.  Double sunset.

The rendezvous was set but the itinerary was not.  How would we feel, in the adjacent neighborhood of cobbles and eviscerated butchershops – now overrun by design seekers enjoying the Department of Transportation’s new traffic/public space patterning?

After drinks in the lounge, our group of writers, artists and designers, animated, wobbled on.  Here, on “Gansevoort Plaza”, shipping containers showcasing Finnish Design, and along the street, welcoming high fashion shop-doors were open.

414 Gallery was a target, but was so crowded and jumbled that we opted for the drinks and continued on.  CORE 77 describes it,

…The space acts as a sort of gallery concentrator, gathering together recent work from IDEA/Brasil, IDSA New York members, Iceland Design Center, designboom, LO-TEK, and a number of other design and architecture studios.

Bustelo-coffee-in-cans, macerated fruit and vodka, sidecars… in the main, drinking and walking typified the halcyon day.

Pictured above, fig. 2 – the three writers; Andy Forell,  Lani Steinberg, Mark Kramer (author “Lee Lozano.net“)… and me. Fig 4 – Conceptual artist (and wearable art designer) Sakurako Shimizu… and me.

CaroleeMay 18 – Carolee Schneemann at St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery

Happily traipsing to St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery (MTA Bus M8) we anticipated a historic event, Mysteries of the Iconographies, a visual talk by the artist Carolee Schneemann, who, in her own words is “transforming the definition of art, especially discourse on the body, sexuality, and gender”. She asserted the connection of her youthful sketches to her adult art making– one’s “own iconographies”.  Stairs, sticks, lines and ropes… a humble discourse on childhood symbols and an eloquent tracing of her spectacular controversies.

A particularly poignant slide reminded us of St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery‘s deep arts history.  An image  from the late 60’s performance Water Light/Water Needle was projected, depicting the very same Parish Hall in which we were listening to the artist talk that evening.

Pictured above, projections from Schneemann’s lecture, Fig 1 – Interior Scroll, Fig 2 – Carolee speaking, Fig 3 – Water Light/Water Needle (1966).

Laura_collage

academy-collage

May 20 – American Academy of Arts and Letters

The big trip… take the A-train and then the C to 155th Street clutching our hard-copy invitations. On May 20th, the American Academy held it’s annual ceremony honor over 50 composers, artists, architects, and writers with cash awards ranging from $5,000 to $75,000.

My composer cousin Laura Elise Schwendinger was the recipient of the Goddard Lieberson fellowship for mid-career composers of exceptional gifts grant.  And we were there to  is to observe her acceptance – and to cheer as the institution  inducted nine members into the 250-person organization: artist Judy Pfaff and architect Tod Williams; writers T. Coraghessan Boyle, Jorie Graham, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Richard Price; composers Stephen Hartke, Frederic Rzewski, and Augusta Read Thomas.

After basking in the celebrity of intellectuals and artists, a group of us, now including sculptor Judy Fox and composer Sebastian Currier , descended the hill to somewhere around 130th Street and then the stone stair-wall that separates Riverside Drive from the Hudson’s shore to have dinner and share experiences of the day.

Pictured above, (right to left, top to bottom), Fig 1 – Laura, Fig 2 – the gate, Fig 3 – T.C. Boyle, Fig 4 and 6 – view of the ceremony from the balcony, and Fig 5 – Architect Stan Allen’s magnificent, multi-color site model.

publicolor_collage

May 22 – Publicolor Design Module

And to complete a week of intensive observation, reflection, revelry and camaraderie, I spoke before an audience of high-schoolers at Publicolor for the “Design Module” – a weekly session with designers describing their jobs.

Telling the story of my development as an artist and designer via the world of film, community activism and civic theatre, I realized how extraordinarily my life and practice has progressed — and struggled to describe my serendipitous and self-made opportunities to these disaffected teenage students.  The Color Club students asked me if I “liked my work” (“Yes”),  what my “favorite color” was (“Colors are site specific”) and we discussed the merits of light and shadow.

Pictured above, scenes from Stir, Splatter+ Roll Gala 2009 (Light Projects’ 10th year participating as Lighting Design consultant and mine; as team leader, for the Publicolor annual fundraiser).

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* dérive

One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones. — Theory of the Dérive by Guy-Ernest Debord