March 18th 2010:

Crains New York Business announced,

Skidmore Owings & Merrill selected to design first phase of work to convert Farley Post Office into a new train station.

The project received $83.3 million in funds from the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act last month.

From the Regional Plan Association website; Moynihan Station Project Timeline

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan first articulated his vision for a great new Penn Station in the landmark Farley Post Office building in the early 1990s.

1993: Amtrak unveils architectural plans for overhauling the Farley Post Office building into a grand new Penn Station, an idea first advanced by then-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The central court of the Farley building would be transformed into a new concourse for Amtrak intercity passengers. This plan is possible because the Postal Service has announced that it is moving mail-processing work out of that building.

November 20th 1993:

Brooklyn Academy of Music held their gala in the James A. Farley Post Office.  I was commissioned to create a decor of light on the exterior of the colonnaded, grand staircase entry of architects McKim Mead and White’s building.

Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents

Picture Research for "Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents"

Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents, a projection sequence of more than thirty glass slides and Mylar paintings, encompassed the two-block long classical facade of Manhattan’s main post-office.

Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents

"Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents", two moments in the projection sequence

An exploration of the building and its role as a “civic stage”, the primary images were paintings of dense colorful theatre curtains – rising and falling, and expanding… ever opening… horizontally rotating around the columns and brushing the grand stair. Other images played in the six-minute montage; 30′ postal workers, a love letter, maps and mail sorting bags.

On that windy, bitter cold night gala attendees such as Leontyne Price, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits, Susan Sontag and Annie Leibovitz rushed up the Postal steps in the swirl of projected light.

Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents

Hand-painted projections: theatre curtains and Bryant Park chairs

Little known colliding cultural facts appear on the surface of the grand building, for one, the inscription: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds is not an official motto of the U.S. Postal Service but an abbreviated quote from ancient Greek historian Herodotus describing Persian postal messengers. A Mr. Mitchell Kendal from McKim, Mead and White is said to have selected it for the NYC building.  The inscription itself was carved by Ira Schnapp;  stonecutter, engraver, and graphic designer from Austria who would later design logos and lettering at DC Comics!

An aficionado of the Manhattan landscape who has written for such diverse publications as Public Art Review and New York Magazine, Mark Kramer has observed, “With possible exception of the Park Service, the Post Office is for most Americans the most beneficent face of the Federal Government”.  The long lines of customers at holiday time, tax return deadlines, grant application due dates are still a zone of frenzied activity, but sadly, the once proud 24-hour Post Office has reduced its hours, Mon-Fri 7:00am-10:00pm; Sat 9:00am-9:00pm, and Sun 11:00am-7:00pm.  Electronic communications have replaced the pen, paper and envelope.

Original Penn Station

May 1962, Original Pennsylvania Station - across the Avenue from Farley Post office

From 1910 to 1961 the Post Office mirrored the imposing Pennsylvania Station on Eighth Avenue.  Now, the building is poised to shed its identity as the civic portal of written communication and fulfill the role of transportation hub.

The renderings of the “New Penn Station” are eloquent, modern and airy within the confines of the old Farley P.O.

The Public Dramas/Passionate Correspondents glass slides lie dormant in archival boxes, ready to adapt and re-install as a celebration of the refreshed civic facade and center of activity – Moynihan Station.

We arrived on a cold, turbulently windy day.  Snug and dry in the Admiral Hotel a converted waterfront warehouse, we fell asleep to the hum of wind gusts whipping down The Sound (“Øresund”) –a strait between the Kattegat and the Baltic Sea.  The Admiral is a few minutes walk along the waterfront to new the Royal Playhouse – its interior filled with an atmosphere of starlight, and a view across the river to the dramatically illuminated Copenhagen Opera House.

By evening’s light a walk into the center city; I wondered at the darkness – the catenary lights suspended over every street – and rare punctuations of facade and sign lighting.

Center for LYS (Center for Light) invited me to speak that their annual Lighting Day.  This year it was held at the ultimately modern Black Diamond – a conference and cultural center annexed to the “old Copenhagen Main Library” built in 1906.

In the center of the vast, open lobby there are two conveyors that stretch between the old and the new buildings.

Watch my Conveyor movie on the Light Projects YouTUBE channel (click here).

The Danish Lighting Center was founded in 1948 with a mission to “advance knowledge and to disseminate information for the improvement of the lighted environment to the benefit of society”. They hold seminars and conferences, and produce a magazine, LYS. Director, Kenneth Munck and  Dorte Gram, an architect who coordinated my invitation to the event and writes for the LYS Magazine, were both wonderful hosts.

I joined a dynamic international group of lighting designers and engineers, including Roger Narboni from France.  My topic was “Reclaiming the Dark Side of Town, an Underpass becomes a Gateway”; a comprehensive discourse on the making of Triple Bridge Gateway at NYC’s Port Authority Bus Terminal.  This project took eight years to complete, with Light Projects role encompassing illumination, color palette and collaboration on the materials for four bus ramps in midtown Manhattan.

Thankfully during the stay it warmed up and I wandered through the city — night and day — observing a massive population of bicyclists and pedestrians co-existing with vehicular traffic, visiting philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s grave and exploring light and the streetscape.

Mark and I visited the Rundetaarn “Round Tower” – a 17th-century tower located in the central district.  It was built as an astronomical observatory and now houses a multi-use cultural space – which showcased an interesting art show of urban signs.

A steep winding corridor of smooth polished cobble stones, with sunken windows and daylight effects upon stucco, leads to a ladder to the exterior observatory level and an expansive panorama of rooftops and industrial structures beyond Copenhagen proper.  The 360-degree city view was exhilarating.

Copenhagen is a city of Scandinavian modern and Scandinavian medieval.

From the observatory to the airport, I am enthralled by this northern sensibility.

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Interested in other international visits and my public space and lighting observations?

Here are posts from 2009:

China

Mexico

Born to go to Mexico City, “La Capital”

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Leni aspired to Mexicana status, here pictured in red dress with Aztec-inspired embroidery

Growing up in Los Angeles Spanish language study started in 5th grade.  We created our own Spanish books – mine was over-sized with a hard cover surfaced in canvas and splatter paint.  the binding was tied with leather thong.  In my imagination, Mexico was associated with music, rich colors, copper metal, a land of deserts, carvings and people who were so fascinating that they spoke a different language than me.  I had a wish to be Mexicana.  Above all I wanted to visit Mexico City.

So, when Jeffrey Miller, President of IALD texted a request from China about my interest in speaking on City Beautification in Mexico City I was thrilled!

This city of great layered history — and pre-history –was opened to me through the inimitable process of Dérive, with my constant companion and explorer, Mark Kramer.

Ciudad de México is inhabited by 8,836,045 inhabitants (2008 figure, Wikipedia) and Greater Mexico City has a population exceeding 19 million people, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the Americas and the third largest agglomeration in the world (Wikipedia).

IALD Conference on Sustainable Design at CIHAC

Convention Center

Expo CIHAC (Centro Impulsor de la Construccion y la Habitacion) was held on October 13-17th, 2009 at the Banamex Convention Center, Mexico City.  The Expo is the most important construction exhibition in Mexico. It gathers together project developers, contractors, consultants, engineers and building material suppliers.  This year CIHAC partnered with IALD (International Association of Lighting Designers) to hold a Conference on Sustainable Design.  Mexico’s IALD chapter sponsored the event.  It was a great opportunity to meet with my south-of-the-border colleagues.

The Banamex Convention Center is adjacent to the Americas Horse Racetrack.  Upon arrival we were mesmerized by the trotting horses out for practice.  I joined North American lighting design colleagues Charles Stone and  Mark Loeffler at the podium.

Charles discussion of White Light in Public Lighting was the perfect counterpoint to mine, with its focus on colored light.  Mark’s LEED and Lighting Design walked the audience through the ever more complex arena of “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and how lighting applies. Mark also spoke on Daylighting Design.

CIHAC Speakers

My topic City Beautification, The Use of Color and Light posits that the use of colored light in the urban environment has exploded.  With the continued development of LED sources the lighting designers’ paintbox has been redefined and colored light is not only technically more possible than in the past, but the technologies are more energy-saving  and sustainable in terms of maintenance.  In this talk I address “by what measure can designers agencies and owners rate the applicability of colored light in the city environment?”  I review the artistic use of color and how to judge good design using color theory, case studies and a checklist. Here, a link to the hand out.

Walking the Streets

Walking is knowing a city…

View here a video of an animated Walk signal, and a great sense of Mexican traffic engineering humor, the Don’t Walk signal – with a person impatiently tapping his foot and consulting a wristwatch as the seconds tick by… to walk.

Envision the experience of the street through the moments that captured me and and in turn are captured by my camera.

Medians and Malls

streetscape

Paving Patterns, Shadows, Light and Textures

Paving

Street Corners

corner

Lighting Fixtures and Side Streets After-dark

mex_lighting

The Zócalo, la Plaza Suprema

Urban planners and designers are ever questing for the perfect recipe for town squares and plazas. Mexico City’s Zócalo — Plaza de la Constitución — is a prime reference – often mentioned in discussion of urban landscape design.

Zocalo_area

Streets branching off the Zocalo

At long last, I was able to visit — see, sense, feel — the genuine article — the authentic plaza, the Zócalo.  I was fascinated by the shared space of pedestrians, cars and bicycles and delivery carts.  Even on a weekday, the sidewalks and streets were packed.  “Shared streets” or “shared space” is a traffic engineering concept to remove separations between vehicles and pedestrians, and devices such as curbs, painted lines, signs and signals. The logic is that humans can be self regulated when forced to…an interesting civic pact.  It felt, here on the main square streets, that the concept of shared streets had not been enforced or planned but simply an authentic need had been fulfilled — that of a huge metropolis and its circulation evolving.

The Zócalo Edge; Metropolitan Cathedral

(Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María)

Catedral Metropolitana

Because of its rich natural, archeological and architectural sites Mexico ranks within the top countries with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites.  As we walked toward the Zócalo through the busy foot traffic, jewelry and watch stores, cafes and restaurants and sidewalk markets our eyes gravitated naturally to the Metropolitan Cathedral which defines the north edge of the plaza.  Its ornate carvings of stone and wood bursts out of the facade beckoning visitors.

The Cathedral is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas. It is sited upon a sacred Aztec precinct near the Templo Mayor. The cathedral was built around a church that was constructed after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán — the Aztec’s capital city (1573 to 1813) — and finally replaced the church. The Metropolitan was inspired by Spain’s Gothic cathedrals.  Its Baroque-style facade and 64-meter high Neoclassical-style towers contain 18 bells.

The ethereal glow of the ornate interior reveals five naves, several chapels, two impressive pipe organs, religious paintings and figurines.  The decor, whispered hush and flicker of candles conspire to create a time/space wonderment.

The Zócalo Edge; Templo Mayor

templo_mayor_plaque

“Next door” to the Cathedral is the Templo Mayor (Great Temple)

The Aztec legend describes the siting of the Temple as a fulfillment of a prophecy; where an eagle was seen perched on a cactus devouring a snake.

Construction began around 1325 AD and the Temple was continually enlarged over the next two centuries. A the time of the Spanish Conquest, in 1521, the temple was the center of this Tenochtitlan, with a population of 300,000.

The temple was nearly destroyed by the Spaniards after their conquest of Tenochtitlan.

The Templo Mayor excavation began 30 years ago after electrical tradesmen discovered the ruins.

Templo Mayor Mexico City

Two life-size clay figures from this trove represent the two faces of Aztec religion. A winged warrior, his head poking out from an eagle’s beak, with talons erupting from his knees, symbolizes life or the sun at dawn. Discovered only a decade ago, a grisly, six-foot-tall, clay figure – with his liver dangling beneath exposed ribs – represents death. Both were revered. The equal value of life and death explains “why the images of death are so strong,” says Felipe Solís, curator and the foremost authority on the Aztecs. “At Mexico City’s core beats an Aztec heart”  — Carol Strickland, Christian Science Monitor

Culture

Museo Nacional de Antropología

Museo de Anthropologica

On our way to the Museo de Anthropologica we strolled through Chapultepec Park.  A large scale photo exhibition mounted on an iron fence was composed of provocative images in billboard style.   The Museum, in mid-century modern/Mexican style, is stunning – the sleek lines interrupted by pattern and relief.  The first gallery was a contemporary take by several artists, on Mexico City and its populous.  Salvage materials, video, industrial homage and individual stories tell the life of the lesser known Mexicano.

The monumental collection is humbling.  Here, another chance to experience the ancient, this time through a curated collection.

culture

Left: billboard photo exhibit, Center: View of Chapultepec, Right: the Kahlo-Rivera House-Study

Lighting designer Gustavo Aviles, and his wife Magi, took us to dinner at the Colonia San Ángel Inn. After an evening of laughter and conversation they surprised us by pointing out the Kahlo/Rivera House-Study right across the street. The intense and creative couple — Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera — painted and housed their skull collection, as well as pre-Columbian art and Mexican crafts here.

The complex, two buildings connected by a bridge, is one the most important cultural landmarks of Mexico City. It was designed by Juan O’Gorman — an architect and painter.  It is a a merging of modern Mexican architecture and the International style.

The work caused a heated controversy in the 1930s by combining organic Mexican architecture and architectural murals with functionalism. So was the breaking of all the aesthetic paradigms of architecture in Mexico until then, to incorporate such blunt theories and thoughts as most avant-garde architects (as Le Corbusier) were developing on the European continent. Thoughts such as the rational use of materials, analysis of the functioning of ideal spaces and the adequacy of them to accommodate activities that took place within them – ideas that were radical at first but eventually were assimilated into the worldwide architectural community. These houses were made possible with minimum cost and effort.

Diego Rivera Studio Museum was established by presidential decree in 1981, opening its doors in 1986. In 1994, the INBA made the restoration and rehabilitation of houses a cultural heritage site of the nation, according to the decree published in the Diario Oficial on March 25, 1998. — Wikiarquitectura.com

I heartily recommend the movie Frida Kahlo directed by Julie Taymor for the flavor, color and sounds of a time in Mexico. And here a link of the real Frida and Diego.

La Capital is an exemplar of metropolitan life, and I like to think that my explorations have just begun.

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

Public Art New York

Jean Parker Phifer, author and Francis Dzikowski, photographer have published a useful and inspiring guide to permanent public art in NYC.

Light Projects’ illumination of the Coney Island Parachute Jump is presented with a beautiful magic-hour photograph.

…the iridescent lighting keyed to the seasons of the year and to special holidays has renewed the neighborhood’s appreciation of its delightful and colorful past.

The project brings renewed focus and artful celebration to a previously neglected remnant of recreational infrastructure.

The book is located in bookstores near you or on Amazon.

BBC Scotland interviews Leni Schwendinger at the Mack January 27, 2009 The interview with BBC Scotland was really an extended tour of the “Mack”,  Charles Renny Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art – one of his masterpieces. Louise Lockwood, director, and I spent three hours together exploring references, experiences, history; speculating and investigating nooks, crannies and cubbies and soaring art studios together. I pointed out tiny filament reflections in the Mack’s beautiful chandelier in the Library – soon to be no more when incandescent lamps are banned, and discussed the diffuse nature of Glasgow’s muted light cast through floor-to-ceiling art studio windows as well as a walking narration of light and shadow on the beautiful varnished concrete of the grand and Gothic stairways.

We walked and talked – it was eerie to recall 1998 when I stayed in the lecturer’s quarters, in the basement, which has become administrative offices! Then, it was a scary, cavernous, silent space with a tiny bed and few stray pieces of authentic furniture – designed and built by Mackintosh.

The interview will be part of a documentary about the refurbishment of the building and the future “window on the Mack” – a new School of Art building to be constructed across the street, design via international competition.