Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Craftsman Ethic: "It looks like what it is"

Recently over on Places we had the chance to interview Matt Urbanski of MVVA about the building of Pier 1 of Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Check out the interview if you want, and for a more intelligent and expansive take on the entire project read Ethan Carr's essay on the subject (but forgo Ourroussoff's critique of it, which is complimentary but oh-so-vanilla).

In doing research for the interview, we were smitten with the simple sophistication of the details of the place, especially the wooden elements of the park- the light poles, the fence posts, the building cladding, and especially the wooden benches.  So, we jumped on our high horse FASLANYC-style and tracked down the man who helped make them happen in order to gain a little more insight.  Now, we should acknowledge that though we spoke with what we consider the point man, woodworker Hector Ducci, but there were many folks involved including salvage specialists MFine who worked with MVVA.
[Brooklyn Bridge Park under construction.  In the foreground the black locust is used for fencing.  To the left are the telephone poles used for hi-mast lighting.  To the right are the benches made from salvaged southern yellow pine]

Each of the wood elements on Pier 1 is distinctive and striking for a New York City park.  The wood of choice for parks here has historically been ipe because it requires no maintenance and weathers handsomely once it is ripped from the Atlantic Rain Forest and shipped from the Southern Hemisphere.  In Brooklyn Bridge Park MVVA used black locust, telephone poles, and the 100-year old southern yellow pine salvaged from the defunct cold storage warehouse on site. We talked to Hector to try and get the backstory on each of these applications.  What we got was a ton of facts and anecdotes from a man with a real respect and genuine curiosity for wood.  It's a snapshot of the dialectic between concept and material, one of the major themes that defines Brooklyn Bridge Park; and we have shabbily reproduced that for you here.


The benches of the park are particularly illustrative, especially when compared to the benches from NYC's other recent high profile dandy- the High Line (first phase).  The High Line benches are stylized elements made from ipe, stainless steel, and concrete.  Like so many salmon swimming upstream they spring out of the paving, emphasizing the linearity and movement of the space with delicate little combinations of precious materials.  They are also an example of the material properties of a medium being completely sublimated to the stylistic notions of the designeratti (and hence will look dated, not to mention busted, in 5 years).  This causes serious problems.
[the benches of the high line are looking rough one year in]
[for the widths of the seat, the actual act of sitting has been subjugated to the stylistic continuity of the promenade]
[the stainless steel armrest is akin to a cheap weber grill on a hot summer day]

The use of ipe is understandable though uninspired.  It is an example of working within accepted, misguided city policy in a rote manner.  The 11.5" seat module, derived from the width of the pavers, is too thin to be comfortable for long, and the boards turned on end and cantilevered 18" leaves the ends prone to warping and chipping.  Lastly, the single stainless steel armrest is guaranteed to scald that tender underside of your forearm on a summer day.  While comfortable seating may not be a high priority on this promenade meant for strolling and movement, the damage and wear evident after less than one year of use suggests that more rainforest will be shipped to New York shortly to replace these fancy, delicate things.

At Brooklyn Bridge Park the benches were conceived by MVVA as a site specific adaptation to the standard NYC park bench- wood slats bookended by a metal frame and used to delineate pathways.  When it was decided that the cold storage warehouse on would be removed (though it remains to be seen why it couldn't have been reused), Hector Ducci teamed up with MFine to take on the task of coordinating the demolition, salvaging, and repurposing of the wood beams and joists for use in the park.  This material was recognized as a valuable and irreplaceable resource- the designers and craftsmen were tasked with creating a bench that would last 70 years.

The density and resin of the old growth southern yellow pine gave it the tensile strength that allowed for long spans and the durability suitable for outdoor use.  Hector knew that southern yellow pine had been used for centuries in the boat building community and started talking with them about the best way to use the material.  MFine did the dirty work of extracting the nails and preparing it for milling.  Hector then worked with fabricators and MVVA to test different options and figure out the ideal profile for the bench planks in order to minimize waste and provide maximum durability and beauty.  Each piece was milled and cut to vertical grain so that water and sunlight would not cause rotting and splintering in the planks over time.  Vertical grain and quarter-sawn timers are important to consider in working with any wood, but according to Hector it is critical in determining the longevity of southern yellow pine because of the high amounts of resin it contains.  
[the benches line the pathways; check out that span- that's some impressive tensile strength!]

The work was arduous.  Hector explained that as the different methods for milling, manufacturing, and fastening were being explored, "the material was showing itself through the process; we were getting feedback from the park itself.  I have a close relationship with MVVA and sometimes they hated me because I would call them up and say, 'Guys, we have to make a change, we have to use the wood this way.'  It is a difficult way of working, but difficult is good; it's beautiful, and it's closer to the truth."  The appreciation of the poetics of the material is perhaps particular to people in the trades that work closely with certain materials (or perhaps it's because Hector is Chilean).

This approach was also evident in the use of black locust for the fence posts in the park.  Before the proliferation of pressure-treated lumber and prefabricated materials in the 20th century black locust was one of the most important trees in North America.  Because it doesn't rot and grows vigorously when young it was widely used in boat building, fencing, and construction.  It's grain is beautiful and it weathers a nice grey just like the ipe.  However, it is a bit harder to work with than ipe or pressure treated wood.  Because the older trees aren't usually straight it is difficult to get large pieces of lumber that art straight.  The wood must be slowly dried to make sure it doesn't warp.  Instead of dealing with this, the building profession have generally decided to take the easy way to the detriment of South American rainforest and the ground where the pressure treated lumber leached its potent cocktails.
[on the right, the salvaged timber on site after it's been prepared for milling by M. Fine.  On the left, the finished benches waiting to be installed on site.]

A quick aside for a black locust tangent.  It's derided as a something of a worthless weed tree, one that Gary Hilderbrand has classified alongside the infamous ailanthus, or as it's known in Detroit, the ghetto palm.  That's too bad.  As F.A.D. and Mammoth have recently noted in the reading of the ragged "Tree Huggers" chapter of The Infrastructural City, the broad characterization of species not traditionally valued for horticultural aspects as weeds stigmatizes species such as black locust.  In addition to the usefulness of black locust in building, and the fact that companies such as Black Locust Lumber work to harvest these trees in the city when they are scheduled for demolition, black locust is also a nitrogen fixer, grows vigorously when young, provides shelter for wildlife and provides hollows for birds.  In short, it's a great land reclamation tree for degraded urban sites in the Eastern US, especially as part of a larger replanting/reforestation strategy.  What's more, they are not tolerant of shade and so are often crowded out by larger species once they have enriched the soil by fixing nitrogen and paving the way for traditional hardwoods.

At any rate, what becomes evident talking to Hector is that the elements are not designed as a didactic celebration of some material or history, but an appreciation of the materials and the processes that render them useful.  These effects on each element making up each space in the park in turn impart a texture, a primal quality.  It is best achieved by working with the people in the trades.  In our headlong rush to incorporate planning into our scope of work, we must hang on to the role of generalist-craftsman too.
[Hector Ducci.  In the middle ground the salvaged timbers.  In the background, the cold storage warehouse being step- demolished.]

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The City- Urbanism or Power?

"Invisible City" by Kazys Varnelis is the 6th Chapter of The Infrastructural City.  The essay dives right in, setting up archetypes of the city, dissecting them, and then using them to explain why the networks of cities are what is really important now:  

The visible is no longer a prime determinant of the urban.  Instead, our networked society is increasingly dominated by what Lewis Mumford called the "invisible city," the unseen world of cables, wires, connections, codes, agreements, and capital.  Today more than ever, the role of this invisible city in determining the structure of urban areas is vast.  Visible form is merely an irruption of other forces, a graphic user interface for a more powerful command line below.

Holy Jesus!   There are so many ecological and technological metaphors in there, and they begin to be stretched so thin, that it is essential to really examine what he's talking about.  In her essay "Shifting Sites", Kristina Hill talks specifically about the development and adoption of ecological metaphors and the way this process affects our conceptions of sites.  Towards the end of the essay she states that her intent is to "try and hold a window open between new and old theories of ecology, encouraging [sic] critical reflection on the theories themselves and the interplay of the metaphors used to conceive them."  

For the window into the old, Varnelis examines the Bonaventure Hotel through Frederic Jameson's essay "Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" in which the Bonaventure is portrayed an autonomous organism connected to "networks of multinational capital through ramps to neighboring skyscrapers and via adjacent boulevards and freeways."  Varnelis then goes quickly to examine the Disney Concert Hall of Frank Gehry, about which he states "the structure's unprecedented formal gestures embody the placeless, hyperkinetic flows of late capital affirming that the joyous equation of culture, high technology, and capital produces an irresistible destination point."  Wow!  Not at all sure what that means, and it's a very one-sided reading of that building, but it is said with such zeal!
[The Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.  The cladding is all stainless steel]

With this history of Los-Angeles-as-seen-through-a-single-building, Varnelis contradicts his earlier claim that today the invisible city is more important than ever.  It seems that it was the absolute essence of these earlier buildings as well.  In fact, one could argue that the invisible city has always been absolutely essential to urbanism- flows of people and goods, materials and energy, disease vectors, money, ideas, and language.  So Varnelis is specifically talking about information technology- not the invisible city in general- and its newfound importance in the city.  And here he has a point.  Let's look into that.

Information technology has been one of the great innovative cultural fields of the last 100 years.  You could even argue that its impact is on the level of the widespread adoption of money itself.  Because of this, the metaphors that are used to conceptualize this field tend to proliferate throughout society.  Varnelis goes on to examine One Wilshire, a building in downtown Los Angeles whose formal architecture is utterly banal but that acts as the most important node in the entire telecommunications network between the western world and Asia.  The piece ends with a statement and an exhortation:  

What was allegorical at the Bonaventure has become real at One Wilshire...  The real operating system, not the graphic user interface are our concern.  Only by engaging the code below can we remain relevant to future cities.

What is not clear is why the real operating system is now our concern whereas before it wasn't.  I am left to assume that it is because information technology is somehow different than the myriad other network innovations that have shaped the built environment and influenced the cultures within which it operates.  This includes ancient things like money, irrigation, pollution and nation states and modern things like plumbing, automobile highways, and multi-national corporations.  Why, exactly, is information technology giving us a stronger imperative than these?  I have no idea.  
[there is a 100% chance that this took place in One Wilshire]

I would agree however that those responsible for designing and building the "graphic interface" or "ossifications" (or whichever other metaphor you're interested) in should engage the dynamics or "code" that helps to bring them about.  But there is something sinister about this essay- it denies some very fundamental human condition with its focus on networks and systems theory and invisible flows and its adamant statements that the material world no longer matters.  And that is the human condition of embodiment.  Kristina's essay is again illuminating here:  

Metaphors do not exist in a vacuum, of course, but in the richly physical world of embodied experience.  Research on human languages, and on cognition, has shown that lived experience affects the fundamental categories people use to describe the world.

and a few sentences later

As ecology enters an era in which the "system" metaphor seems to have won the competition, I argue that the origin of this theoretical debate lies in the human experience of embodiment...

Over on F.A.D, an interesting post called "Embodied Urbanism" popped up in recent months, examining this idea and the implications of the embodied experience on the design of public spaces.  While this explicit term is new, it is has roots in earlier inquiry into the phenomenology and materiality of space and experience.  The precepts of Embodied Urbanism are always combined with the invisible forces of sites in the significant spaces and experiences in our lives.  This is an area that deserves more examination as we rush headlong into re-conceptualizing wi-fi networks and redefining our work to resemble that of The Architect in the Matrix.

As the new metaphors take precedence (and for good reason) we must work to "hold a window open", for this will provide for the most fertile discussion and enable thoughtful intervention in the environment.  Ultimately, "The Invisible City" offers some buildings as caricatures of urbanism and makes some rather rote statements; nothing that is challenging if one has understood much of the ecological, technological, or systems theory work of the last three decades.  Moreover, we would argue that instead of discussing the complex phenomenon of urbanism with its chaotic and interrelated mix of invisible forces and embodied experience, Varnelis is merely talking about power.  If as a designer you are interested in power, then perhaps it is best to plug directly into the "real operating system".  However, if you are interested in urbanism, it would be best to not forget our historic role as the "generalist craftsman", the designers of space, while we work to engage with the invisible city.
[The Fonz, right before literally jumping the shark]

Sunday, June 6, 2010

On Broadway, Tactical Urbanism

Sadik-Kahn is at it again. Given the recent announcement of the new temporary design of Times Square and apropos of the traffic chapter in the Infrastructural City, it seems a good time to discuss Broadway again. The Times Square project is the flagship move in a major NYC DOT effort to convert important public spaces in the city from vehicle use to pedestrian plazas. These build on pilot projects from 2008 and include the controversial moves at Union Square, Grand Army Plaza, and Prospect Park West and are discussed at length by the sycophants over on streetsblog (of which I am one). As inexpensive “hacks”, tactical interventions producing great effects, we here at FASLANYC greatly admire them, especially as they are part of larger, innovative strategies. However, landscape/architecture designers are about to sink their smarmy little paws into the effort to make the changes permanent and so it seems a good time to try and gain some perspective. We offer an overview, focusing on Times Square and Broadway, with lots of links and a little snark.
[Times Square at Broadway and 7th Avenue, back in "the day"]

ON February 11th Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik Khan announced that the temporary plazas on Broadway at Times Square and Herald Square will be made permanent. The announcement is provocative and the ambition admirable. The question is, how extensive will this initiative be? Is this a clarion call to New Yorkers and Americans at large to rethink their roads and cities or merely the creation of another frothy and bombastic Times Square curiosity?

The temporary plazas are part of a well-publicized DOT initiative in 2009 called "Green Light for Midtown" which proposed closing sections of Broadway to create pedestrian spaces in the interest of “opening up streets and avenues in Midtown by reconnecting the street grid on 6th and 7th Avenues and giving space to pedestrians on Broadway”. Concurrently with the temporary plazas, the Broadway corridor between 23rd Street and 59th Street was modified to create a separated bikeway. These measures have their basis in the forward-looking plaNYC of the Bloomberg administration which calls for the construction of "diverse and sustainable world class streets" contributing to a more equitable and diverse city.
[the temporary plaza at 23rd Street and Broadway (in early spring)is one of 
the pilot projects, a precursor to the plazas proliferating across the city]

During the past winter the pilot projects at Times and Herald Square were evaluated by the Department of Transportation and city officials. These evaluations reflected increases in pedestrian use and safety, user satisfaction, contented business owners, along with marginal improvements in traffic flows. Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Sadik-Khan held these up as conclusive evidence of the success of the pedestrian plazas. In particular, the improvements in pedestrian safety were stunning; this despite the increased numbers of pedestrians using the space. Midtown Manhattan is highly contested terrain, and an objective reading of the results suggests that while the changes are equitable for each mode of transport and use evaluated, it is not a panacea and favors pedestrians and business owners above drivers and taxi cabs.

The history of Midtown famously began with the Commissioner’s "Gridiron" Plan of 1811. This plan platted the remaining expanse of the island beyond downtown and today Manhattan is remarkably true to this vision save two major exceptions: Central Park and Broadway. At the time of this plan Broadway was one of the major north-south roads in New York City. In lower Manhattan it follows the grids and of the urban fabric, yet in Midtown it slices across the grid that was so carefully and ruthlessly platted in 1811. This is a vestige of the old Bloomingdale Road which, unlike the island's other roads, hills, swamps, and streams, proved too important to discard or realign.

When Broadway was integrated into the grid, large six-way intersections were created where Broadway crossed the north-south avenues in Midtown. The legacy of this conflict is major public open spaces approximately every ten blocks: Union Square at 14th Street, Madison Square Park at 23rd Street, Herald Square at 34th Street, Times Square at 46th Street, and Columbus Circle at 59th Street. It is only an anomaly in Midtown. South of 14th Street -the area of town not subjected to the gridiron layout- Broadway bends and turns with the old city streets. In the Upper West Side, it begins running parallel to the other avenues.
[Broadway slices across the grid,
creating plazas and new patterns of use
at every avenue]

1904 was a big year for Times Square. In October the first subway line in New York City, the Interborough Rapid Transit, began rumbling underneath to much acclaim. Earlier that year the New York Times moved to 42nd Street, convincing Mayor McClellan to change the name of the square there from Longacre Square to Times Square. This served to clearly signal that Midtown had arrived as a new center in the burgeoning metropolis. The symbolic importance of Broadway grew with Midtown during the 20th Century. In addition to carrying a major subway line below and connecting many of the iconic places in New York from City Hall to Central Park, Broadway also became the "Canyon of Heroes" for celebrating city sports championships and dignitaries, the "Great White Way" with a world-famous theater district, and the setting for the iconic commercial holiday parades. It was also a mess.

During this time Broadway had come to symbolize the American metropolis in many ways: it was the print media mecca during the newspaper age, the center of retail during department stores’ heyday and the setting for entertainment shows during the broadcast era. When New York City fell on hard times in the 1970's, the de facto red light district around Times Square was the symbol of the avarice and fear that defined that era. And when the tourism industry experienced exponential growth in recent decades, it was Times Square that was the shiniest beacon. It became synonymous with thronging crowds, seas of yellow taxis, and obscene and spectacular commercial displays delighting and offending all comers.
[needing no introduction]

[the requisite shot glorifying shitty aspects of urban
life, Times Square was the city's red light district
during the 1970's]

In addition to serving as a cultural microcosm, the street was dangerous and thoroughly dominated by cars. The “N” line, formerly the BMT (Brooklyn Mass Transit), had been extended underneath Broadway all the way to 42nd Street at Times Square in 1918. This train filled the street with pedestrians at each of the major intersections all along its length. Overcrowded sidewalks with a heavy mix of residents and tourists were not only unpleasant but unsafe. In testament to the various dangers of the city’s streets, a safety study from 1998 wryly states that “the chances of being killed by someone in a car in this city are now far greater than getting killed by a stranger with a weapon”.

PlaNYC was put forth by the Bloomberg administration in 2007 offering a progressive plan for the management and development of the city looking ahead to 2030. Regarding transportation congestion plaNYC states:

The city’s quality of life and economic prosperity depend on a transportation system that can meet demand. That means we must use our streets more efficiently if we are to absorb millions of new residents, workers, and tourists.

To achieve this goal, we will expand proven strategies to smooth traffic flows; and we will encourage commuters to shift from their cars onto an improved transit system, while providing better service for those who choose to continue to drive. [p.88]

Green Light for Midtown, along with the failed proposal for congestion pricing, was among the first and most visible initiatives toward this end. In announcing the project, Commissioner Sadik Khan cited the reasons for the project as “traffic lights with up to 66% more green time, significant travel time improvements on Sixth and Seventh Avenues, safer and simpler crossings for pedestrians, and faster bus speeds for 70,000 daily riders.” It is important to note the political savvy shown here by couching the justifications for the project in rhetoric focusing on improved traffic flows and safety (but mostly, improved traffic). With the success of Green Light for Midtown, it is worth considering: what are the precedents and previous visions for Broadway that might inform its possible futures, and could these changes to Times Square signal a larger national shift as they have historically?

A recent precedent was created in 2007 by the Times Square Alliance. The Alliance, a non profit organization working to “improve and promote Times Square”, hired five design teams of some renown to provide “practical yet creative approaches to the [sic] public space problems in Times Square”. Indicative of the halcyon days of 2007, these proposals all featured fancy new patterns on the ground plane and ostentatious vertical objects. At the epicenter of bombastic iconography each of these proposals slathered on another layer of decadence.

The unfortunate consistency of the proposals resulted in the development of two topline recommendations for improving Times Square: 1) implement improvements that reinforce Times Square’s- and New York’s- identity as a unique, iconic space and 2) make the ground plane multi-functional so that the pedestrian, vehicular, broadcast and event demands can be managed more efficiently. The recommendation and the accompanying goals are all useful and straightforward. Unfortunately, none of the projects proposed closing the street to traffic beyond specific programmed events, and none of them looked beyond Times Square to make connections any further up or down Broadway.
[utterly bombastic, West 8's proposal is fantastically Times Square.  You may
like it or not, but it is very "Times Square".  It is not, however, very
substantial.  We find little difference in this an another giant LED screen hung
from a building facade...]

[unbelievably hideous and inane, Weisz and Joest's offering was actually not
the worst.  Two others relied solely on lighting for effect.  Given that there is
already so much light emanating from Times Square that a giant shaft of light
can be seen shooting into space from across the River, we doubt the efficacy
of such proposals]

[Ken Smith's offering was typically whimsical and bizarre.  Ehh, more design
we don't need]

Another relevant precedent located just down the street did consider remaking Broadway for pedestrians. Union Square, located between 14th and 17th Streets, derives its name from the “union” of 4th Avenue and Broadway as laid out in the Plan of 1811. It is the southern gateway to Midtown. The size and form of Union Square has changed greatly over the years, most recently with the renovations begun in 1984 by the City Department of Parks and Recreation and still being completed today. In these changes, the size of the park was nearly doubled and great expanses of road along Broadway dedicated to traffic and parking were turned over to pedestrian use.

At Union Square the newly expanded north and western ends, recently completed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, now house the Union Square Greenmarket four days a week and provide additional pedestrian space to users. The steps at the southern edge of the park, expanded and aligned with city sidewalks, are one of the great social spaces in all the city, integrating the energy of visitors with the quotidian rhythms of the surrounding residents and students (granted, it’s more of a commercial playpen than a demonstration ground for labor unions, but such are the times).

There are many differences in the conversion of Broadway at Union Square and the proposed plazas at Times Square; the constituencies and user groups are different and the volumes of people vary. In addition, the physical size of the open spaces and vertical scale of the surrounding buildings is different. Most significantly, the closure of Broadway at Union Square happened over an extensive period of time. Nonetheless, the scale and variety of spaces, the materials and the visible involvement and input of local constituents all offer lessons to be gleaned from this vital public space. And the spaces are closely linked- one can easily walk, bike, take a subway or a cab from Times or Herald Square down Broadway to Union Square. Any new pedestrian plazas should be considered in relationship and sequence with Union Square and the other plazas on Broadway.
[the expansive paving at the northern edge of Union Square is no longer. 
Now a plaza and street trees accomodate the green market and pedestrians
and will soon be complimented by a bike lane]

[The southern edge of Times Square in 1984]

Lastly, the temporary plazas created as part of Green Light for Midtown should also be carefully considered for their successes and shortcomings as they are made permanent. Other than the bold move of closing the street to traffic, the intervention was limited to a palette of asphalt paint, movable seating and tables, benches, and small ornamental plantings. There is something still very road about them, and that is a good thing. The survey responses to the area were overwhelmingly positive; 74% of employees in the area were satisfied with Times Square as opposed to 43% before the projects, and 74% of New Yorkers agreed that Times Square improved over last year. Additionally, the pedestrian volumes increased in the new plazas as well as in many of the blocks between them, and outdoor uses were more diverse. Given the density and diversity of uses in the area the design decision to focus on accommodating, not attracting, was the key to their success.

However, there are some shortcomings due to the ad-hoc nature of the interventions that need to be rethought. These include the chaotic language of appropriation and aggression created by closing the streets with DOT bollards, markers and barriers. These elements are mixed with antiquated landscape elements such as suburban garden-style plantings with park benches interspersed to create a language that is a bit absurd, if interesting. In addition, the cyclist- pedestrian relationship seems adversarial. Currently there are striped lanes and curbs connecting the plazas which suggest separation and right of way, but these transition dangerously into no-ride zones which cause confusion and frustration for cyclists and pedestrians. This relationship will have to be more closely studied and thought out.

The Future
The work to be done in coming months and years is challenging and filled with promise. With the construction of permanent plazas at Times Square and Herald Square, New Yorkers have a chance to rebuild Broadway as the Great Green Way. Beginning with Union Square as the gateway to Midtown and continuing with major plazas marching up to the southern edge of Central Park, Broadway stands to be remade as a new type of street built with the kind of vision that created the Plan of 1811, the subway system, and Central Park. It will require learning from past street models and consideration of how they will function throughout the day and seasons for all the diversity of users and ecologies. The ability to advocate bold new initiatives using rhetoric consistent with current cultural expectations will be needed in this most contested of spaces in our polyglot metropolis. With ingenuity, intelligence, humility and cooperation, Broadway can build on its history as the City’s symbolic thoroughfare. It can become the dynamic diverse system of movement through Midtown that signals a remaking of America’s streets.

[The new temporary design for the plaza by artist Molly Dilworth.  The blue is 
meant to contrast the predominant red tones of the facades found in 
Times Square.  Ehh, ok]

The new temporary design chosen for Times Square, by Brooklyn artist Molly Dilworth, will be in place this July and will stay through 2011. It is not particularly inspired, relying on conceptual metaphors stretched too far to be compelling (it’s blue, water’s blue unless you are talking about the water in any of the rivers, harbors or oceans of New York, and this somehow speaks to urban heat island effects. It's forms are a NASA heat maps of the island enlarged and superimposed on the Square.  Oh, and Manhattan is an island, a hot one. Get it? But now it will be a bit less hot because of the metaphorical river running through it. Whatever). Rather than some esoteric metaphorical combination of NASA heat maps superimposed on the square, we are more concerned about the edges, especially the transition from the vehicular road to pedestrian road handled.  But check it out for yourself; the blue is a nice choice.

We’re hoping that the designers chosen from DDC’s stable of high-profile starchitects to design the permanent plaza will find a way to deal with the palimpsest of geology, infrastructure, utilities, and cultural metaphor that is Times Square and to position it in a larger vision of what our streets and public life can be.