A discussion in two parts, with Kay Kallos, Dallas Public Art Program Manager, covers the inception and objectives of the integrated artwork at the newly opened Main Street Garden in Dallas.

Audio links

Interview Part 1

Artist Leni Schwendinger discusses her new work, SpectraScape, at the new Main Street Garden Park located at 1902 Main Street in downtown Dallas. SpectraScape is a site-specific artwork comprised of bands of light that scroll across the green glass study shelters at Main Street Garden Park.

Intreview Part 2

SpectraScape refers to the garden through the use of four seasonal color palettes derived from the seasonal park plantings—rust and gold for fall, pink, yellow and green for summer, green, blue, and white for winter and green and yellow for spring. Each season is proclaimed through rhythmic sequences of colors and tones that race across the tops of the study shelters.


Leni Schwendinger Light Projects: Lighting Design

Leni Schwendinger Light Projects: Lighting Design

Submissions were accepted in seven categories. The competition collected a total of 117 entries, including 73 built projects, 24 unbuilt projects, master plans and visions, and twenty student projects.

Oddly, HTO Park was the only submission in “Large Places or Neighbourhood Designs”,  a design plan for a new or renovated large-scale area of the city.  Although the project was not a winning entry, we are very proud of it.

HTO Park Lighting

Here, Light Projects took a leap in specifying a high mast pole, in part to compete with the scale of the CN Tower — the world’s tallest building and free standing structure — standing in the background of the quayside park.

Downtown central Dallas is being recast.

spectrascape01

Traditionally, the city center has been associated with such iconic non-residential structures as Neiman-Marcus’ flagship store, the once- flamboyant Statler-Hilton building and the “Old City Hall” notorious for Jack Ruby’s slaying of Lee Harvey Oswald. DOWNTOWN DALLAS, a business improvement district, has been formed, and buildings heretofore industrial and commercial, such as the moderne-style Mercantile, formerly a bank building with radio transmitter and an illuminated clock tower, have been renovated for housing.

SpectraScape rendering and color palette

SpectraScape rendering and color palette

I worked closely with the park designer, Thomas Balsley, to develop the park’s lighting scheme so a subsequent public artwork commission was a natural progression which built on my understanding of the uses and types of park visitors.  University of North Texas’ law school is slated to move into the Old City Hall and I envisioned students with laptops and law books as primary park visitors.

Inverted “L” shaped green, glass shade-structures were designed by the architect to stand along the edge of Main Street. The structures are set off by a long triangle of seasonally planted, colorful striated gardens.  I thought of the structures “study carrels”, envisioning a light that might switch on when students or other visitor entered for reading during warm Texas evenings.

Using the color and stripes of the gardens as a launch point, I envisioned sleek lines of light integrated into the shelters’ edges.  Narrow bands of animated stripes, viewed in series will attract passersby.

Light Projects’ Design Manager, Ute Besenecker, has been instrumental throughout the design and implementation process and we have worked closely with interactive designer Ed Purver for programming.

Thus SpectraScape was conceptualized.

Here, a full sized mock up is presented on a warm evening, July 31, 2009. (See low-resolution movie)

Mock-up July 31, 2009

Winter (left) / Summer (center-left) / Autumn (center-right) / Downtown Dallas neighbors viewing

A bonus; the dynamic, luminous lines are visible day and night, adding a moth to flame effect from afternoon into the night.

Elevated tracks at Queens Plaza, NYC - repainting begins

Elevated tracks at Queens Plaza, NYC - repainting begins

The groundbreaking ceremony for Queens Plaza was hot, the traffic non-stop and the shade of the historic oak trees a relief.

Light Projects has been working on the final design for this project for more than two years and it was gratifying to visit the site not to inventory columns and overpasses or to argue the qualities of sodium or metal halide sources, but to launch the installation of our hard won approvals from the agencies involved; New York City’s Economic Development Corporation, Department of City Planning, Department of Transportation, Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Mayor’s Office.

Queens Plaza_groundbreaking01

The Queens Plaza terrain is rugged; pure urban — noisy traffic, city-dirt, elevated train tracks, a study in zig-zag, confusing cross-walks and high-contrast shadow and light.

The renovation project includes new street alignments, landscaping, a bike path, public art, street and landscape lighting and most importantly a verdant JFK Park – in a former parking lot.

Queens Plaza-Ground breaking02

Robert Lieber (Mayor’s Office), Amanda Burden (Department of City Planning), Helen Marshall (Queen’s Borough President), Adrian Benepe (Department of Parks and Recreation), and Gail Barron (Long Island City Business Improvement District) spoke to the crowd about the work that had gone into making the project a reality.  They spoke of improved lighting (three mentions) and pedestrian and traffic-friendly streets and the new landscaping.

The design team includes Wallace Roberts Todd (WRT), Langan Engineering, Marpillero Pollak Architects, Eng- Wong Taub Traffic Engineers, Michael Singer, Artist and Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD.

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

Hangzhou (杭州市区)

Today Hangzhou is an important cultural center in China.  It was the capital of the Song Dynasty, starting 1127,  for close to one-hundred years – until the Mongols invaded.  At that time it was one of the most populated cities of the world – estimated at one million.  Throughout its legendary history, Hangzhou has been described an honored as the  “City of Civilization”, “Land Abundant in Fish and Rice”, “Home of Silk”, and the “Capital of Tea”.   Several friends had informed me in advance that the adventurer/explorer Marco Polo described Hangzhou as “the finest and noblest city in the world”.

On Saturday, June 13, we arrived to scenic West Lake (西湖) one of Hangzhou’s most visited sites, where we assembled for a traditional lunch on the banks of the Lake.

Camille Liang, an YGLS Account Executive accompanied us on the second leg of the trip

Camille Liang, an YGLS Account Executive accompanied us

Although it was daytime when we arrived – I could see the romanticism of the district emphasized by ornate streetlights and through later conversation and reading I learned that West Lake is famous for light shows and fireworks. After lunch we visited the West Lake  Zoo to meet the panda, birds, reptiles and fauna indigenous to China and Asia.

In the evening we had dinner with  Mr. Shen Wei of  Zhejiang Urban Construction Garden Designing Institute – selecting ingredients in sidewalk bins which were served in novel and delicious ways.

Images courtesy Wei Shen and Mondo Magazine

Grand Canal images courtesy Shen Wei and Mondo Magazine

Mr. Shen took us to the Grand Canal (大运河),  A spectacular man-made waterway flowing over 1,000 miles, the most ancient sections were started in the 5th century BC, and partially navigated sections were combined in 581–618 AD. There we experienced the recently opened lighting installation by Roger Narboni (with management by Zongtai Lighting group) – a collage of green-illuminated trees, large scale blue rectangles hovering over the water and softly lined and lighted bridges. On the opposite bank Shen’s designed -and -installed architectural lighting installation marked the landmark wooden buildings which have just been renovated – echoing with pre-tenant emptiness. Luminous red plexi-and-metal lanterns are effective here – creating a mysterious and quiet pattern of markers, and the building eaves are lined with white LED. In both lighting installations I question the use of cool stark white — and would rather have seen a soft candlelight color — more difficult to attain with LED.

Suzhou Train Station

Suzhou Train Station

Suzhou (苏州)

A smaller town than Hangzhou or mega-city Guangzhou, Suzhou is known as a garden city.  Four-thousand years old, Suzhou is one of China’s  “24 Cultural and Historic Cities “.  Additionally, Suzhou is known for its historic creative personae –   “remarkable politicians, philosophers, strategists, scientists and artists”.  Today prominent cultural institutions and talents reside in Suzhou.

An infinate variety of handmade paving patterns

An infinite variety of handmade paving patterns at the Lion Forest Garden

Well preserved are Suzhou’s double chessboard layout of  “water and land in parallel, canal and street in neighbor”, its network of rivers and canals composing three vertical, three horizontal and one ring, and its unique landscape of “small bridge, flowing water, white wall, black tile, cultural relics and classic gardens”. In today’s Suzhou there are 487 cultural relics under municipal-and-upper level protection, of which 15 are under state-level protection and 101 are under provincial protection. Over 60 classical gardens are well preserved and nine of them are listed in the Catalog of World Cultural Heritage,  Humble Administrator’s Garden, Lingering Garden , Master-of-Nets Garden, Mountain Villa of Embracing Beauty, Surging Wave Pavilion, Lion Forest Garden, Garden of Cultivation, (among others). –Suzhou Culture and History Website

LionsForest

In 1991 I studied the “kare sansui” (dry landscapes), while living in Japan under the auspices of a Japan-US Friendship Society grant.  I understood that the rock garden concept and craft was “borrowed” from the Chinese. Viewing the Chinese-designed rock-gardens has been a life-long goal.  We visited the Lion Forest Garden (獅子林). The entry sign informed of  caves and tunnels — which I could not picture.  Japanese garden design did not prepare me for the experience to come.

Suddenly we were in a cool, dim cave.  I fell in love with the framing of each view from under and over the rocks. An invitation to climb was implicit. We did. Walking along the rim of the naturally hewn rough rocks and then down the man-made steps and edges was exciting and enthralling… a highly aesthetic adventure playground.

Shanghai (上海)

Shanghai_Hotel

From Suzhou the bullet train to Shanghai took 40 minutes.  The view from the taxi window showcased a city festooned in scaffolding.  The Shanghainese are preparing to welcome the world – 70 million visitors are expected — for Shanghai 2010 ” Better City, Better Life”, May through October 2010, by repairing facades and generally sprucing up. We sped along and entered a hardware and tool district – and then our hotel, Riverside Bund – just adjacent to the famed  Bund (外滩), or Wei Tan District, busy with locals and tourists.  The pre-1937 European-influenced Bund architecture  is nestled on the banks of the Huang Pu River.

Martin Ma, YGLS

Martin Ma, YGLS

Martin Ma, a principal from Guangzhou Yang Guang Lighting Service Co. Ltd. (YGLS), headquartered in Guangzhou, joined us for the final leg of the journey.  YGLS has multiple mandates; management of lighting projects (as owners’ representative), partners with Guangzhou Messe Frankfurt Exhibition (for Guangzhou International Lighting Technology Symposium), and Urban Planning and Design Institute of Tsinghua University (for educational forums). They organize overseas lighting tours to facilitate communication within the lighting industry and have established Yang Guang Lighting Designers Growth Foundation to support young Chinese lighting designers.  Finally, YGLS publishes a lighting magazine,Yang Guang.

Tongji-University

The first appointment was at the Tongji University Architectural Design and Research Institute. Mr.Zhou Jianfeng, Deputy General Architect and Yixiu Yang, Architect shared architectural projects – buildings and interiors, and I shared works of Light Projects and elaborated on my ideas for creative lighting approaches to infrastructure and public space.  I went on a tour of the inventive, adventurous building where my host YGLS holds lighting seminars.

Sophisticated and venacular Shanghai

Sophisticated and vernacular Shanghai

After dinner in the center of Shanghai City, compliments of Rock Hsuing of  Roled Opto Electronics,  an evening walk took us to visit Xintiandi (新天地) – literally Heaven on Earth, a jammed, fashionable nightlife district composed of adapted, reused and recreated warm-wood and -grey blocks of the Shikumen housing of early Shanghai.  Framed within the antique walls and tiles is a highly programmed composition of galleries, bars, cafes and themed restaurants. The complex felt strangely sacrilegious – authentic and inauthentic – hard to put my finger on… and then it turns out…

The principal architect of Xintiandi is, not surprisingly, an American: Benjamin Wood, who once worked for Benjamin Thompson, the designer of Quincy Market. (Wood recently relocated from Boston to Shanghai.) Wood’s design is a clever mixture of renovated old buildings and new construction imitating the style of shikumen, the gray brick town houses that were built in many Shanghai neighborhoods beginning in the eighteensixties. Three-story structures built along narrow alleys, with elaborate, stone-carved entries leading into small interior courtyards, shikumen—the term means “stone gate”— generally housed upper-middle-class families. (Under Communist rule, shikumen were converted to tenements, and as many as seven families were shoehorned into them.) Like many buildings in cosmopolitan Shanghai, a shikumen combines Asian and Western influences; it is a Chinese home with a Parisian sensibility, a hybrid form both delicate and monumental.

The inspiration for the Xintiandi project was a gray brick building, no larger than a house, sitting in the middle of the site; it is where the Chinese Communist Party originally met, in 1921. (Mao himself attended the first meeting.) Vincent Lo, the developer who runs Shui On, was told by government officials that the buildings adjacent to the old meeting place had to be maintained, and that none of the garish commercialism that marks most Chinese retail establishments would be permitted beside it. – Paul Goldberger,  New Yorker, “Shanghai Surprise “, 2005

I had the opportunity to visit the Shanghai EDAW office and meet a wide variety of urban designers, landscape designers, architects and planners; introduction compliments of my friend Chris Choa (who is quoted in the New Yorker article if you read it all the way through).  James Lu welcomed me and a spirited discussion occurred about new cities in China and issues of public lighting.

A real surprise was waiting in the form of Z58 by Kengo Kumo, architect – the home of Zhongtai Lighting (中泰照明).

Z58

Martin suggested to expect a great building for our next meeting at Zhongtai Lighting with Emma Jiang and Claudia Cai.  I pictured an interesting building and an office within… as I walked up to the threshold of No. 58 Pan Yu Road preoccupied with the taxi ride through the French Concession and all the traffic, my view was filled with a tall silver and green surface – a living wall. Through the door, an astonishing view upward was framed on left, right and on the ground plane with sleek hanging gardens and water dripping and flowing.  It was cool and majestic and I realized that this was not a normal “interesting” office building.  And it dawned on me that Zhongtai was the only tenant…

Z58 is multi-functional – a design and events gallery, offices, and food service for those privileged to work and visit, and – amazing – two “6-star” bedrooms for visiting dignitaries. But the area I liked best was a setting of two Eames lounge chairs surrounded by a softly flowing rectilinear pool on the top floor with a view of the garden and Former Residence of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (上海孫中山故居紀念館 上海市) China’s doctor-leader known as the “National Father of modern China”.

Zhongtai calls itself “one of biggest professional lighting companies in China with offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou”. The lighting division is but one of a larger holding company with other divisions in construction and energy industries.  It was Zhongtai Lighting that coordinated the work of French designer Roger Narboni in Hangzhou for the Grand Canal lighting master plan and  subsequent implementation of his design.

Bird market

On every trip outside the U.S. my partner and I visit the local bird market.  At Shanghai’s Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market (花, 鸟, 鱼和昆虫市场) we spent an enchanted hour meeting the birds and their owners, inspecting the ceramic dishes and grains, feeding baby starlings and wondering about the phantasmagoria of crickets….  Here, I have found Mr. Xing-Bao Jin’s– Shanghai Institute of Entomology– invaluable website resource on Chinese Cricket Culture.  In the baskets and little cages  live the crickets who inspire by song and signal the seasons and seasonal activities (see images above).

Listen to the Cricket
by Bei Ju-Yi, Tang dynasty

The Singing cricket chirps throughout the long night, tolling in the cloudy autumn with its rain. Intent on disturbing the gloomy sleepless soul, the cricket moves towards the bed chirp by chirp. — from Chinese Cricket Culture

Pudong_airport

Shanghai Pudong International Airport: Terminal 2 designed by Richard Rogers Partnership, opened in 2003

June 18th: after an early morning visit to Gucheng Park (古代公园), Tai Chi and frantic packing – time to return to New York City.  Shanghai / New York City the two are completely compatible.  Can you love more than one city?

Pudong International Airport (浦东国际机场) another gorgeously wrought public space helped ease the transition home.