Municipal Art Society’s “Jane’s Walk” West Village, May 5th 2012,was fun and invigorating. 

I was the “official” photographer and took my mission seriously, running ahead, falling back, click click click.  Get the shot.

Joan Schechter  is a pro tour-guide and she covered the architecture and history of the Village by the lights of Jane Jacob.

Jane's Walk 2012 - Photos by Leni Schwendinger

How did it happen that Michael Levine, Charlie Anderson and I veered of the path of the official walk and viola! began a sensational wander?

It started outside of 555 Hudson – do you recognize that address? It was Jane’s last home in the US, before leaving for Canada as a protest of the Vietnam War, and a way to save her son from the draft.  The kind current owner showed up at the front door – perhaps she heard the sounds of our group of 75 determined tour-ists?

At Janes house - Photos by Leni Schwendinger

As the group moved on to the wonders of West Village, some of us stayed on to discuss the building and her apartment.  Michael had visited Ms. Jacobs in 1967 and wondered about details: were the rooms still configured the way they had been, what about the roof garden?  Soon, the house owner offered a home view. Up we tramped on the narrow creaky staircase.

Janes house - Photos by Leni Schwendinger

Oohs and aahs, the original planked floor, the window where Jane made her observations, Micheal’s memory of cockroaches that lived there too (whose apartment did not have roaches at that time?).  All were discussed and photographed.

Jane's window - Photos by Leni Schwendinger

By the time we reached the sidewalk again our tour group had gone.  We tried to guess their track, and turned up Bleecker.  There, we discussed the merits of “obstructions” (the remnants of slate-sidewalk past), embedded relics of railings and tiny trap doors for coal.

Bleecker Street - looking down, Photos by Leni Schwendinger

We bemoaned the endangered species of Village life…

Endangered species of Village life - Photos by Leni Schwendinger

Our conversation unqualifiedly animated to find like-minds appreciative of the “nature” of urban accretion, we retired to Cafe Angelique for refreshment.

Cafe Angelique, photo by Leni Schwendinger

What was learned?  Urban planner Michael conflated my interest in Found Lighting to Found Seating. Architect Charlie shared his quest to walk all over the city at all hours of the night shooting photos of doors, building materials, people of all stripes and his upcoming blog on the same.

Found Seating - Photos by Leni Schwenidnger (and Michael Levine)

Seating? Photos by Leni Schwendinger

An all together satisfying New York City, nay, Manhattan experience, was had by all.

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The walk according to the New York Times: “One Jane’s Walk tour starts at the Christopher Street subway station in Greenwich Village, where Jacobs arrived after moving from Scranton, Pa., to pursue a writing career. Another sticks to Roosevelt Island, focusing on how it evolved from a purely institutional setting of mostly almshouses and hospitals into a planned residential community. You can explore the Rockaways in Queens or visit “Main Street U.S.A.” in Tottenville, on Staten Island.”

The listing by sponsor Municipal Art Society:

Jane Jacobs’ West Village

Time: 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

Walk Host: Joan Schechter

Meeting Place: 7th Ave. South & Christopher St., in front of Village Cigar

Accessibility: Partially Accessible – curbs, uneven terrain, busy sidewalks

Description: In 1934, 18 year old Jane Jacobs arrived in NYC from Scranton to pursue a writing career. While exploring her new environs, she found herself at Christopher Street Station, and immediately began her love affair with Greenwich Village. Our tour will include the history of the area, woven with stories and relevant sights of Jane’s epic battles with city bureaucracy and the powerful Robert Moses to preserve her beloved Village. Walkers will visit Hudson Street, where she lived for 20 years, observing its daily ‘intricate sidewalk ballet’ that was the inspiration for her acclaimed first book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, as well as see several other historic sites that would not exist today if it were not for her successful grassroots activism.

Selected dérive posts in this blog:

Islington After Dark, A London Light Walk 

Leni Schwendinger Lights the Way

Public Lighting Theory – developing the nexus of lighting and urban design

Mexico City,  Las Calles y Luz de “La Capital”

Public Lighting Walk with Leni

Dérive, a Cultural Week in Manhattan (July 2009)

Dérive, a Cultural Week in Manhattan (May 2009)

*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

Light Planning and Community Involvement

Official map of the Chinatown Little Italy Historic District boundaries

Official map of the Chinatown Little Italy Historic District boundaries

The Chinatown Little Italy Historic District of New York City was designated in September 2009 by the National Register of Historic Places which allows building owners and community applicants to apply for grants to support the architecture and places of historic significance.

Known for its intersection of Italian and Chinese immigrant cultures, the new historic neighborhood is roughly bounded by Worth St., Lafayette St., E. Houston St. and the Bowery.

Two Bridges Neighborhood Council sponsored the application.

I am working with the Two Bridges organization to support the community in their quest to invite visitors and locals to the district by marking the area with wayfinding and lighting.  Both neighborhoods, and the adjacent newly emerging Nolita, are filled with restaurants and night life that is not easy to find unless you know exactly where to go!

Chinatown: existing conditions

Chinatown: Existing conditions

Existing conditions: Little Italy

Little Italy: Existing conditions

Light Projects is developing charrette and brainstorming techniques so that community members are enabled to focus on the after-dark experience of their districts and neighborhoods.

Community learns about light planning

This workshop technique translates into a lighting master plan, lighting strategy and/or lighting guidelines.

Goals and benefits of city lighting programs and master plans

Leni Schwendinger Light Projects' synopsis of goals and benefits of city lighting programs

The workshop for the the Chinatown Little Italy Historic District lighting session which was held April 19, 2010 is an example of our participatory approach.  The results will be compiled into a map and report to come later.

WORKSHOP AGENDA

1. Introduction to Light Projects LTD – what is a lighting designer?

2. A slide presentation including

  • Night City”, a movie about light at night
  • Introduction to goals and benefits of lighting strategies
  • Lighting applications
  • Little Italy/Chinatown Existing Conditions
Lighting research into Eight Shades of Night

Previous all-night research on the St. Patrick's Old Cathedral (Little Italy) area

3. Discussion:Historic District: What are the highest priorities for lighting in our neighborhood?  What are our lighting principles?

5. Group and Paired Mapping Exercise

  • How do visitors and locals travel to destinations and what are those routes like at night?
  • Highlight Subway Stops
  • Highlight Gateways (Are evening gateways different?)
  • Locate Nighttime Activities (parks, etc.)
  • Description of routes including areas of concern/opportunities
Community workshop

Stakeholder group maps nighttime experience

Acknowledgment and thanks to Robert Weber, Two Bridges; convener of the workshop and Wylie Stecklow; Nolita Neighborhood Association. Robert and Wylie took photographs of the charrette which appear in this article.

Related Links

Public Lighting Video Shoot

Public Lighting Theory

Night City – a seven minute movie about the night and its light

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.

Joan Grubin explains "Portal" to Leni

Joan Grubin explains "Portal" to Leni

I love the Mid-Manhattan Library on West 40th and Fifth Avenue, the poor  cousin to the 1911, iconic lion flanked  and landmarked white-marble Beaux-Arts revival Research Library building, across the street… which at times is referred to as the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, and more recently as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building designed by Carrère and Hastings.

The Mid-Manhattan Library, the destination of many a 4th floor  picture research foray,  is a limestone and granite building built in 1915.   In 1961 New York Public Library set its sights on 455 Fifth Avenue, and in 1970, the Mid-Manhattan officially opened — on the fourth through sixth floors above the The Arnold Constables Department Store.   In 1982 Mid-Manhattan took possession of the entire building, renovated by Artist/Architect Giorgio Cavaglieri. Today Mid-Manhattan  houses the largest circulating and reference collections in NYPL’s branches.

On Thursday early evening, the Light Projects staff and I walked over to the library, through Bryant Park, to visit Joan Grubin’s “Portal“, a perception-popping window installation.

grubin-image

Joan’s work is an adventure of paper, paint and light.  Her studies in reflection and texture have, in these public pieces, literally and optically deepened – the color and cut-outs lead the viewer to assume spatial relationships that change depending on vantage point and ambient light.

As we approached the library, the Portals glowed strongly, activated by the new 1 Bryant Park building as it reflected its urban beam of light onto the paper works.

Why worship?  Several years ago, arms filled with books and videos, I asked the clerk, “How many books may I check out”.  She answered sweetly, “As many as you need”.  It was then I fell in love with this generous mecca on Fifth Avenue.

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.