Born to go to Mexico City, “La Capital”

LS-Aztec_inspired

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

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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.

LightMappingNYC

LightMapping NYC is intended to provide the New York City lighting design community with a forum to consider the current, past and future conditions of their urban environment at night.  The multi-part program will include a walking tour of The High Line, interactive group walks in the city at night, and a group discussion / reception.  Attendees are encouraged to join multiple events, but are also welcome to choose what best fits their interest and schedule.

Lightwalk leader, Leni Schwendinger invites you to view NIGHT CITY, her video inspired by the Professional Lighting Designers’ Association LightMapping events. <Click to view Leni’s NIGHT CITY>

Group Session: Take The High Line

Wednesday 11 November, 6:00pm to 8:00pm

LightWalk Sessions

10 November thru 16 November, times and locations vary
Locations include: Times Square, Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Meatpacking District, Midtown West, Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO underpasses, and Virtual New York City.

Final Session: Presentations and Reception

Wednesday 18 November, 6:00pm to 9:00pm

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A component of the PLDA’s global Lightmapping project, LightMapping NYC is a joint program of the PLDA, DLFNY, and IESNY, and is sponsored by iGuzzini North America.  All events are free and open to the public!

Visit iesnyc.org/LightMappingNYCfor additional program information and to register for events.

Registration begins Friday 30 October!

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.

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