blog pic

It was cold, it was dark…normal site study conditions.  

Arup staff and I braved the night with cameras, illuminance meters, laser measurement tools and paper plans to parse the high-pressure sodium nighttime environment. Here, an informal outcome, a 61-second video of the monumental Gowanus Expressway intersection, Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Marvel at the many illuminated phenomena – the blinks, the blurs, the limited color range…industrial building lantern effect, crosswalk retro-reflectivity, the glare of under-bridge fixtures and hazy baby-aspirin colored blanket of light…everywhere.

 

 

… and imagine, if you dare, the future of this site, a pilot project to allow humanity to explore, with pleasure, perhaps fascination, the monstrous forms above and street level destinations that may develop through the taming process of light, green infrastructure and urban design.

UNDER THE ELEVATED: PHASE II is a Design Trust initiative. The website spells out the background, process and profiles the three Fellows.

City Light Guide, a free mobile app by Philips has just been released.

Link to Android City Light Guide  &  Apple City Light Guide apps

Here, visitors and inhabitants of Barcelona, Berlin, London, New York, Paris, Rotterdam, Shanghai, Sydney and Tokyo are invited to follow routes — through  photographs and narrative — put together by lighting designers including Paula Rainha from Portugal, Thomas Wensma from Netherlands and myself.

This is a new approach to describing  international cities through lighting: written, photographed and mapped, or as the City Light Guide App describes;

Unlike any other guide, this will show you the location, give advice on how to get there and give you a history of some truly inspirational lighting productions…Featuring light installations, buildings and works of art…

My contribution New York City — a sliver of Manhattan– is an easy walking tour.  No fuss, no transportation.

Leni Schwendinger's Times Square at Night

A 360-degree view of Times Square and its private light phenomena and then on to Bryant Park.

  1.  Times Square: North end: TKTS, Buildings, billboards
  2.  Times Square: South end; Buildings, billboards
  3. View of One Bryant Park (Bank of America Tower)
  4. 42nd Street grand stair entrance to Bryant Park – Torchere, American Radiator Building
  5. Bryant Park -the northern path:
  6.  View east to the Chrysler Building/1930,
  7. South to the Bryant Park Hotel (American Radiator Building/1924)…
  8. … and Empire State Building/1931
  9. Look South – 42nd street view corridor.
  10. Bryant Park: East Allee: view southward to Bryant Park Hotel (American Radiator Building).
  11. Bryant Park: Le Carrousel
  12. Bryant Park: Fountain with view upwards to the…
  13. … Moonlights mounted on the 1095 Avenue of the Americas building, built for New York Telephone in 1974

Leni Schwendinger photo of Bryant Park

The app narrative is rigorously to the point and brief, here, some beloved outtakes:

New York City’s borough of Manhattan has been celebrated and embellished in the all of the arts, high and low – song, cinema and poetry. Consequently much of the world “knows” this uniquely dense metropolitan island. With a population of over 16-million within 59 sq. kilometres, historically, the city has attracted immigrants worldwide, leading to a richness of cultural diversity reflected in distinct neighbourhoods, cuisine and languages spoken. Prior to the appearance of the Dutch in 1609, “Manna-hata” was populated by the Lenape Indians. Since the late 19th century the Manhattan skyline’s iconic skyscrapers have shaped its identity. Today, the city is known for architecture, fashion, the arts, and financial activities. As the “city that never sleeps” it is a perfect candidate for a Light Guide.

Leni Schwendinger photo for City Light Guide

Times Square has been called the “crossroads of the world”. Perceptually there are now two crossroads within Times Square.  One, the actual crossover of Broadway and Seventh Avenue (between West 44th and West 45th Streets), by the diagonally crossing avenues, and, two, a folly, a grand stairway of glass at West 47th Street. The observation deck doubles as a rooftop for the TKTS discount Broadway theatre ticket booth. This landmark employs cutting-edge technology for lighting and mechanical systems (including geo-thermal heating). LED arrays concealed in the steps create a saturated unmistakable red glow. The grand “stairway to nowhere” is a huge success, fully occupied by New Yorkers and tourists alike.

Leni Schwendinger photo for City Light Guide

In 1686 the area which is now Bryant Park was designated as public space. Subsequently a graveyard (1823) then Reservoir Square (1847), it was renamed Bryant Park in 1884 for newspaper editor and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. In 1899, the Reservoir structure was removed for the construction of the adjacent and underground New York Public Library. The park was re-designed in the 1930’s as a Great Depression public works project. In 1969, a famous rally was held as part of the nationwide Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, and then in the mid-seventies the park became derelict. In the 1980’s through advocacy and formation of a Business Improvement District the park was redesigned and renovated.

Leni Schwendinger photo

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Pivot to a recent think-tank experience with LAND Studio to discuss the visitor experience of this great industrial, mid-western city.

I arrived the evening before and commenced photographing – this is what I do!

My handy iPhone, iMovie editing-app called out: “try me“.

So I did.  And the next day eyes opened to the vernacular and artistic figures of light in Cleveland.

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For other cities’ subject videos, photos and text; see articles in this blog: CITIES!

A launch to the season of golden slanting sun and naturally tinting leaves, here is a seasonal selection of commentaries voted the best at Light Project studio — a visually warm celebration of the coming cool weather.

It’s autumn in New York, The gleaming rooftops at sundown, Oh Autumn in New York, It lifts you up when you run down.  Glittering crowds and shimmering crowds, In canyons of steel, They’re making me feel – I’m home.

Leni Schwendinger's NightSeeing™ / Livable Cities, LyonLivable Cities: Walk with me in Lyon through magenta-pink immersed streets

Fête des Lumières; a NightSeeing™ LightWalk in Lyon

Leni Schwendinger stands by the Triple Bridge Gateway (for Dwell Magazine)

An interview about urban lighting of our city as room, the body; home to the heart. 

As You Light It: Dwell Magazine Video and Leni Schwendinger


Sackler Center, Brooklyn Museum; Judy Chicago's Dinner Party. Light Projects worked closely with Ennead architects.

2009 AIANY Design Awards include Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Center

This interactive light/art/science sculpture is an public outreach artwork created to explain gravity.

Astronomy’s New Messengers: Listening to the Universe with Gravitational Waves

Publicolor is our favorite non-profit. We illuminate their benefit in a high-school gym annually.

Publicolor, Color is Energy

HTO Park and Bryant Park, two great urban public spaces.

Accolades and Finales (and the Winter LightWalk)

Triple Bridge Gateway, Manhattan

Light Projects objective: transform neglected infrastructure in our urban nighttime environments

Triple Bridge Gateway: Award and Lecture

Which is your favorite Leni Schwendinger, Fusing Art + Design with Light post?

Public Art at Main Street Garden Park:

SPRING Lights Change to SUMMER

SpectraScape, the public art installation comprised of video bands of light that scroll across the green glass shelters at Main Street Garden Park will shift from the spring colors – hot pinks and white – to summer soft pink, lavender and yellows – on June 21, as the Summer Soltice transpires. On Tuesday evening viewers will see a dynamic media transmission echoing the summer landscape of the garden park.

Preliminary Video Color

DESIGN PROCESS: Preliminary Spring to Summer colors.

Here, a silent film of the design and construction process:  SpectraScape – an Interactive Artwork Under Construction.  The project progressed from construction to video and seasonal programming, shown in this short video: SpectraScape – On-site Programming. In the end, a crowded and joyful opening event included my talk on Dallas Main Street Garden Park – Ribbon Cutting.

Video Color Refinements

DESIGN PROCESS: Spring to Summer color refinements. Final video pixel proportions and color distinctions

SpectraScape, inspired by the colors of the seasonal foliage in Main Street Garden Park, interacts with park visitors when they enter the green glass shelters.  The horizontal scroll of color freezes as interior lights illuminate the shelter space when visitors step in.

The presentation of Spring in SpectraScape is best viewed just after dusk, which is clearly identified by the white color bands that identify the 30 minutes of sunset before resuming with the seasonal rhythmic flash of color that races across the top of the shelter.  This work inhabits the City’s first urban park landscape in central Dallas, Main Street Garden Park located between Commerce and Main and St. Paul and Harwood streets.

Leni Schwendinger

With over twenty years of work as both lighting designer and public artist, Leni has developed her lighting philosophy and in doing so, has refined the possibilities for light in the urban environment.  She has been the recipient of numerous professional awards, including several “Lumen” awards from the Illuminating Engineering Society, the Society for Environmental Graphic Design and the NYFA Fellowship for emerging and media art.

The City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA) works to enhance the vitality of the City and the quality of life for all Dallas citizens by creating an environment wherein arts and cultural organizations can thrive so that people of all ages can enjoy opportunities for creative expressions and the celebration of our community’s multicultural heritage. Our mission is to establish a cultural system that ensures that ALL Dallas citizens and visitors have an opportunity to experience the finest in arts and culture.  More information on the programs and services provided by the OCA can be found at www.dallasculture.org.

Links to other media about SpectraScape and the design process at Dallas Main Street Garden Park

Leni Schwendinger Public Art: SpectraScape, Dallas

SpectraScape, the Public Art installation comprised of video bands of light that scroll across the green glass shelters at Main Street Garden Park will shift from the fall  colors – rust and green – to winter on December 21, as the Autumnal Equinox transpires. On Tuesday evening viewers will see green and white tones of light that celebrate the sparse landscape of the garden park proclaiming the start of winter.

SpectraScape, inspired by the colors of the seasonal foliage in Main Street Garden Park, interacts with park visitors when they enter the green glass shelters.  The horizontal scroll of color freezes as interior lights illuminate the shelter space when visitors step in.

The presentation of Winter in SpectraScape is best viewed just after dusk, which is clearly identified by the white color bands that identify the 30 minutes of sunset before resuming with the seasonal rhythmic flash of color that races across the top of the shelter.  This work inhabits the City’s first urban park landscape in central Dallas, Main Street Garden Park located between Commerce and Main and St. Paul and Harwood streets.

Here is a silent movie link shot in 2009: SpectraScape – On-site Programming.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.
Can you find your way at night?

In the evening Washington D.C. NW is a monochromatic blend of light.

People are the action.

The shifting interplay of nighttime dark and light make every city a unique destination. Join acclaimed lighting artist and designer Leni Schwendinger and a group limited to 35 as she presents impromptu the D.C. nocturnal city of light, culminating at the ASLA Gala. This mistress of light sculpture and installation will decode the shadows, emanations, and reflections that define the nightscape, from shop silhouettes to the phantom photons of passing cars.

American Society of Landscape Architects’ Annual Meeting (2010)  invitation

Saturday, September 11 7:45–8:30 pm, LightWalk with Leni Schwendinger –Sold Out!

The NightSeeing™ LightWalk is conducted like a treasure hunt — a diverse group of participants searching for a fresh perception, a discovery of those lights and shadows, large and minute, to delight the mind and senses.  Or rephrased for planners, designers and landscape architects; an analysis of the character of lighting in any given place.

I began the tour with a quote from the artist/engineer/planner, Pierre Charles L’Enfant from September 11, 1789.  On that date he wrote to President George Washington “to solicit the favor of being Employed in the  Business” of designing the new capital city. His became a Baroque plan featuring open ceremonial spaces and oversized radial avenues with respect for the natural contours of the land.

With my intrepid group — landscape architects, designers and manufacturers from all over the country — I sought L’Enfant’s plan, lighting detail and filigree, and found a soft undifferentiated layer of light.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.

Public lighting — the lighting supplied by the municipality, business improvement district/CBD, utility, or institution in the United States — is generally “designed” by engineers and manufacturers.  An increasing trend, however, is to incorporate lighting designers onto streetscape design and engineering teams to revitalize districts, neighborhoods and communities.

City designs and plans, are strictly limited by regulations that are based on the primacy of the automobile (e.g. street lighting) and reducing risk , recommended brightness levels, maintenance and stocking issues, and the light pole and luminaire styles that manufacturers are currently marketing.

On the positive side, this is the light that we can depend on – the base lighting that allows residents, workers and visitors to feel comfortable sallying forth into the city’s night.   Public lighting is the threshold of light, upon which private and found lighting are layered.

NightSeeing™ Map Washington D.C.

NightSeeing™ Map Washington D.C.

We started our journey focused on the Historical Society’s colonnaded edifice floodlighting.  A traditional, uplighting method of  frontal illumination, this approach results in soft ambient glow.  Appropriate for classical buildings, and inexpensive.

Onward past rows of historicist streetlight lanterns.  Here, an effort could be made to differentiate street types and districts with varied types of poles, oh! a relief, the Chinatown lanterns with their red posts and lantern tops.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.

We went through the Techworld canyon and surprisingly found the same decorative luminaires, rather than lighting fixture forms referencing forward-thinking technologies, although, there was one difference, induction lamps are being used — a source that is white light and has a long lamp life, requiring less maintenance.

Some of the endearing details that we did find included count-down Walk/Don’t Walk signals, bracketed facade down-lights (cheap and easy), LED media signs and the colorful floodlit Chinatown gate.

NightSeeing™ Washington D.C.

The most exciting part of the tour were the people on it and the acceptance of the D.C. residents and tourists milling about — the sidewalks were packed on 7th Street NW that evening.  The small groups of loungers on the National Museum of American Art grand stairs were curious about the LightWalk and we in turn, discovered them using steps for the appropriate evening purpose… sitting in the floodlight of the stair and colonnade, a staple of light and architecture in our nation’s capital.

Leni Schwendinger’s LightWalk drew our members through the shadows of DC’s urban streetscape, guided by the eye of an artist and technician to experience the magical interplay of darkness and light.

— Clark Ebbert, Education Program Manager, ASLA

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For more illumination, reading and pictures:

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

Light Planning; Chinatown Little Italy Historic District

Accolades and Finales (and the Winter LightWalk)

Night City, The Movie

The Making of Night City

Free for New Yorkers of all ages:  A fantastical collision of Art and Science to hear gravity firsthand.

“Astronomy’s New Messengers: Listening to the Universe with Gravitational Waves”, an exhibition courtesy of the National Science Foundation and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration was on view June 2 through 6, 2010 .  This interpretive exhibition offered an up-close look at the work process of a dynamic group of over 800 physicists and astronomers worldwide who have joined together in the search for gravitational waves from the most violent astrophysical events in the Universe.

These scientific ideas are the basis for design throughout the exhibit from the undulating waveform shape of the space to the programming of the light sculpture and the graphic design.

The sound waves superimposed onto the rotating color palettes is revealed in the sculpture's 3D screen

LIGO, short for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, is a revolutionary new kind of telescope designed and built to observe, for the first time, ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by massive cosmic events. This amazing interactive exhibit featured a model interferometer with laser, a space-time curvature simulation, games to find the hidden gravitational wave in the static of the universe, even a mirror from the real LIGO. Overhead, Leni Schwendinger’s dazzling interactive light sculpture depicts the universe LIGO is trying to observe with a show of light and sound in real time.

Mock-up at the Light Projects Studio

“Astronomy’s New Messengers” is not only science.

The LIGO scientific endeavor is motivated by the same desire for exploration, the curiosity for the unknown and the awe of nature which motivated humankind throughout millennia of history. In this respect, science and art are two facets of the same human quest for beauty and truth”

explains Marco Cavaglia, Principal Investigator of Astronomy’ New Messengers and Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Mississippi.

Here, the start of installation in the Ballroom

Installation video on Light Project’s YouTube channel

To communicate the wonderment in our universe Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership and Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD, creatively re-interpreted the ideas behind the science of LIGO resulting in an immersive exhibit that encourages visitors in self-guided exploration.

Our goal and our hope is that the installation and the interactives faithfully convey the fascinating story of the quest to observe gravitational waves and what they will reveal to us about the history and nature of the universe.” relates Lee Skolnick, FAIA, Principal of LHSA+DP.

“We have attempted to interpret and evoke the spirit of these waves and the mystery of space-time; and embody them in the visitor experience.”

The exhibition’s design emphasizes the relationship between the light sculpture, the model interferometer acting as a real one, and the interaction of the visitor representing an event in the universe detected by the interferometer.

Light Projects was very excited by the opportunity to translate the search for gravity through our art medium, video and LEDS. Our light attracts people, young and old”, observes Leni Schwendinger.

Guests learn that gravity is a manifestation of the curvature of space-time and how LIGO scientists hope to see supernova explosions, black hole collisions, even the birth of the universe – the Big Bang – with a new set of eyes.

Left, Leni Schwendinger points out the finer details of interaction with young visitors, right, Marco Cavaligia explains the interferometer

Here, interactive designer, Ed Purver’s video documentation of the installation and visitors in action a must see!

All in all the exploration and blending of art and science was a tremendous experience for the designers which was passed along to a diverse audience, around 2,000 visitors, through light, color, and interactivity.

PUBLIC ART AT MAIN STREET GARDEN PARK

WINTER LIGHTS CHANGE TO SPRING


SpectraScape, the Public Art installation comprised of video bands of light that scroll across the green glass shelters at Main Street Garden Park will shift from the winter colors – green and white – to spring on March 20, as the Vernal Equinox transpires. On Saturday evening viewers will see pink tones of light that celebrate the spring landscape of the garden park proclaiming the end of winter.

SpectraScape, inspired by the colors of the seasonal foliage in Main Street Garden Park, interacts with park visitors when they enter the green glass shelters.  The horizontal scroll of color freezes as interior lights illuminate the shelter space when visitors step in.

The presentation of Spring in SpectraScape is best viewed just after dusk, which is clearly identified by the white color bands that identify the 30 minutes of sunset before resuming with the seasonal rhythmic flash of color that races across the top of the shelter.  This work inhabits the City’s first urban park landscape in central Dallas, Main Street Garden Park located between Commerce and Main and St. Paul and Harwood streets.

Leni Schwendinger

With over twenty years of work as both lighting designer and public artist, Leni has developed her lighting philosophy and in doing so, has refined the possibilities for light in the urban environment.  She has been the recipient of numerous professional awards, including several “Lumen” awards from the Illuminating Engineering Society, the Society for Environmental Graphic Design and the NYFA Fellowship for emerging and media art.

The City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs (OCA) works to enhance the vitality of the City and the quality of life for all Dallas citizens by creating an environment wherein arts and cultural organizations can thrive so that people of all ages can enjoy opportunities for creative expressions and the celebration of our community’s multicultural heritage. Our mission is to establish a cultural system that ensures that ALL Dallas citizens and visitors have an opportunity to experience the finest in arts and culture. The OCA is advised by an 18-member Cultural Affairs Commission appointed by the Dallas City Council. The OCA manages the city’s Cultural Contracts, Neighborhood Touring and Public Art Programs; oversees six cultural centers including the Bath House Cultural Center, Latino Cultural Center, Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Oak Cliff Cultural Center (opening in 2010), and South Dallas Cultural Center; and operates the city’s classical music radio station, WRR101.1FM. More information on the programs and services provided by the OCA can be found at www.dallasculture.org.

Links to media about SpectraScape and the design process at Dallas Main Street Garden Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copenhagen is a city of Scandinavian modern and Scandinavian medieval.

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

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

Here are posts from 2009:

China

Mexico

Born to go to Mexico City, “La Capital”

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

mex_lighting

The Zócalo, la Plaza Suprema

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

Zocalo_area

Streets branching off the Zocalo

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

The Zócalo Edge; Metropolitan Cathedral

(Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María)

Catedral Metropolitana

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

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

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

The Zócalo Edge; Templo Mayor

templo_mayor_plaque

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

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

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

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

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

Templo Mayor Mexico City

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

Culture

Museo Nacional de Antropología

Museo de Anthropologica

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

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

culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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