WHAT INSPIRED THE NAME PUBLIC SPACE JUNKIE?
Canaletto. Serendipitously, I spied an exhibition called “Canaletto and his Rivals” at the National Gallery in DC, when I was there to visit the much-touted Gauguin show. Thinking I would just pop my head in, I was immediately swept into the embrace of gorgeous architecture, the sweeping vistas of skies and canals, and the pageantry of the Venetian people enjoying their piazzas. Short of breath, my heart racing, I couldn't stop looking. The paintings can be as much as 8.5' wide. I had seen reproductions, but being in front of the physical canvasses provided the immense pleasure of actually entering the spatial experience depicted. As my friend finally dragged me away, I said to myself, “Karin, you're a public space junkie, you can't helped it.”
MARCH FESTIVAL: Las Fallas, Valencia, Spain

Evil Up in Smoke at Valencia’s Biggest Blowout

I have never seen a city so transformed by a festival as the Spanish city of Valencia during Las Fallas.  It seems that all the public open spaces from tiny medieval plazas to major intersections are invaded by huge, colorful, cartoon-like paper-mache figures - at least four hundred of them, some five stories high.  Targeted for exorcism by fire, these giants depict celebrities, public officials and policies disliked by the population.  The imagery can be outrageously satirical, stunningly erotic, gruesome, funny, or charming. 

On March 19th at 11:00 PM the  “ninots” (Venetian for doll or puppet) are all burned simultaneously.  Once these monumental sculptures have crashed to the street consumed by flames, people rush from the neighborhoods to the City Hall to see the largest one of all set ablaze, a truly spectacular sight.  Locals stand under the flying sparks as if basking in a warm rain.

It is thought that the festival was originated in the Middle Ages by the carpenter’s guild as a celebration of the Spring Equinox and was later adapted to praise Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.   Las Fallas continues to grow, supported by neighborhood groups who compete to hire the best artist to create this astounding public art.

KB

MARCH FESTIVAL: Las Fallas, Valencia, Spain

Evil Up in Smoke at Valencia’s Biggest Blowout

I have never seen a city so transformed by a festival as the Spanish city of Valencia during Las Fallas.  It seems that all the public open spaces from tiny medieval plazas to major intersections are invaded by huge, colorful, cartoon-like paper-mache figures - at least four hundred of them, some five stories high.  Targeted for exorcism by fire, these giants depict celebrities, public officials and policies disliked by the population.  The imagery can be outrageously satirical, stunningly erotic, gruesome, funny, or charming. 

On March 19th at 11:00 PM the  “ninots” (Venetian for doll or puppet) are all burned simultaneously.  Once these monumental sculptures have crashed to the street consumed by flames, people rush from the neighborhoods to the City Hall to see the largest one of all set ablaze, a truly spectacular sight.  Locals stand under the flying sparks as if basking in a warm rain.

It is thought that the festival was originated in the Middle Ages by the carpenter’s guild as a celebration of the Spring Equinox and was later adapted to praise Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.   Las Fallas continues to grow, supported by neighborhood groups who compete to hire the best artist to create this astounding public art.

KB

When The Super Bowl Took Over Times Square

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The set up of Super Bowl Boulevard is in the works along thirteen blocks of Broadway from 34th to 47th Street, a huge street festival that starts on Wednesday Jan. 29th and runs through Saturday Feb. 1st from 12 noon to 10 PM.  As a producer of outdoor events I must say that’s a super-sized street fair permit!  

My colleague, Elliot Winick is the Site Manager for this major undertaking.  Elliot is a legend in our field, respected for his skill and long experience in permitting public events and making the logistics work brilliantly.  We were privileged to hire him as our site manager for Winter’s Eve 2013.  I feel for Elliot, because walking around in the icy cold for all these days is a bone-chilling job.  

Of note is the fact that my darling brothers, the Bacon Brother Band, will perform on Wednesday at 8:30 PM on the outdoor stage at 40th Street.  I hope their fingers don’t freeze. 

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The Party that is The Grammy Awards

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Pharrell Williams is the ultimate PartyActivator.  He got the Staples Center up and dancing with Daft Punk’s song “Get Lucky.”  When it comes to Pharrell’s look, you can’t say, “There ain’t no hat for that.” because Pharrell has The Hat for everything – and sometimes it seems he’s producing everything.  “Get Lucky” production values were simple relative to some of the other (Katy Perry and Pink) over-the-top spectacles, but the music was infectious.  Collaborator Nile Rogers also lit up the “Lucky” stage (glad my disco generation was so well represented) as well as the inimitable Stevie Wonder.  It’s a treat to see our icons of pop, rock, and country respectfully woven throughout the show even though the results are not always stellar.  My only collateral damage from the Grammy’s was that “Lucky” lodged itself in my brain again, but that’s not too much to pay for a fun evening.

So how about the spectacle of Macklemore and Ryan’s song “Same” about homophobia performed in front of a huge flashing electrified church backed up by a choir in robes?  Was it transgressive, progressive, manipulative?  To me, the vision of thirty-three couples of every sexual persuasion and ethnicity exchanging rings and walking down the aisle together was heartfelt assertion of Popular Culture’s embrace of marriage equality.  Were you watching world?  Good to see Madonna, our gender bending early adopter, step into the ceremony officiated by the queen herself, Queen Latifah, radiating royalty and wearing straight blond hair (why not).

Reccomendation: AIA Cruise

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The architecture cruise of Manhattan on the 1920’s style yacht is exhilarating fun.  You’ll see more than starchitecture.  The lively and well-informed commentators (that’s my friend Arthur Platt in the hat) will open your eyes to waterfront planning, public housing, urban parks, classic buildings, campuses, cliff jumpers, and bridges, bridges, bridges - 18 of them in all.  It’s a very civilized experience, complete with a complimentary drink and appetizing snacks.  To learn more go to: http://www.zerve.com/SailNYC/ArchTour

KB

Politics and Public Space

The beautiful city of Damascus has no large central square in which protestors can gather en masse, according to a report on NPR.  When protestors perform actions in one of the many small squares, such as throwing a rose into a fountain, evidence is quickly destroyed.  Obviously, the lack of a main plaza is not the only handicap for Syrians who want to demonstrate, but it shows that urban planning can limit the potential power of large crowds in public spaces. Tiananman Square, Tahrir Square, Pearl Square, on the other hand, have all taken their places in history as iconic settings for revolutionary actions.  I wonder whether these events will have any influence on the design of cities in the future?  

KB

Strange Fruit at The Wintergarden, The World Financial Center NYC

The last time I saw Strange Fruit was in a dark street in Brooklyn where the interaction between the performers, both male and female, felt emotionally edgy as they swayed toward each other, reached out, and then spun away.  This time, the flirtatious ladies in their long eyelashes and colorful hoop skirts seemed appropriately glamorous for the sleek architecture of the World Financial Center.

KB

Ai Weiwei, “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads”

Ai Weiwei’s first public sculpture is on display at the Pulitzer Fountain in the Grand Army Plaza (in front of the Plaza Hotel) until July 15th.  The series of cast bronze heads represent the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac.  These heads are enlarged reproductions of the originals that acted as the control gears for the water clock in the fountain of the european-style summer palace, “Yuanmingyuan”, of the Manchu emperor Qianlong in the 18th century.  Every two hours, water would spout out of the mouths of these heads.  The creation of these Zodiac heads reflected the combination of western and eastern efforts to create a influential work of art. The original heads were designed by European missionary Giuseppe Castiglione, and manufactured by the royal craftsman of the Qing dynasty.  During the Second Opium War of 1860, they were stolen when the British and French troops invaded China.  Not until 2000 the Chinese government recovered five of the twelve heads.  Two heads (Rat & Rabbit) remain part of Yves Saint Laurent & Pierre Berge’s collection; the other three’s location are unknown.  Ai Weiwei puts these recreated zodiac heads on display as his first western sculpture work.

Kat

Brooklyn Bridge Park, DUMBO

July Fourth Weekend was a great time to be in New York, less crowding and beautiful weather created an ideal environment for a leisurely roam about the city.  ”Last call for the East River ferry!”  Caught up in the moment we bought a one way ticket from Pier 11 and hopped on the new East River ferry.  In a few minutes we were docked in DUMBO and I felt as if I had left NYC and was on vacation!  The area was very charming and the pier had beautiful views of the East River, Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan skyline.  Adjacent to the pier is the new Brooklyn Bridge Park by Michael van Valkenburgh Associates.  The park effectively utilizes its location by creating a topography that allows for vistas from every point.  Expansive lawns open up for picnics and lounging while a promenade allows for strolling along the river.  Bike paths are woven in and around the lawns along with a small beer garden hidden in the shade.  Brooklyn Bridge Park is a great retreat from the city where you can relax and reflect while enjoying beautiful views of the East River.

- Kat

The colorful world of inflatables at “Rainbow City” near 30th st Highline a few years ago.  What a fun and productive way to utilize temporary public space!

The colorful world of inflatables at “Rainbow City” near 30th st Highline a few years ago.  What a fun and productive way to utilize temporary public space!

Promenading – How Are We Doing?

A promenade is a leisurely walk in a public place simply for the purpose of pleasure of display.  New Yorkers walking slowly with no particular destination, no heartrate meter, no ducking and weaving?    That hardly seems possible.  But the High Line is getting us to do exactly that – at least it got me on the late afternoon of July 4th.

I find it hard to stroll on the streets.  Being blocked by a family of slow moving, wide body tourists on my way to a meeting can be excruciatingly painful when I’m in the NYC walking mode.  What made me realize that I had hit another stride on the High Line, was following a man with a stroller and actually feeling relaxed.  At peace of with the enemy, I joined his pace instead of plotting my next spurt forward.

Most people seemed to enjoy the rhythm of the day, politely staying to the right, not clumping in the narrow sections.  One family, which I saw roaring through the crowd, Dad loudly expressing his annoyance, some blocks later had slowed down, and were happily licking their ice cream cones as they walked.  The design of the High Line makes it the perfect place for people watching, and what a gloriously diverse group of New Yorkers was on display.  Of course, some people were finding it more alluring to watch the nicely framed traffic from the amphitheater steps.

Promenading while traveling is an easy way to get in step with local traditions.  I joined the paseo in the main square of Oaxaca, Mexico, where the boys walked in one direction and the girls in another flirting and feigning disinterest – a sweet way to meet a cute Americano.  In Kyoto I remember people in traditional blue and white cotton Yukatas, taking an evening walk, perhaps working up an appetite for dinner or just enjoying the cool air. 

Do you have a favorite promenade, passeggiata, paseo, strut, or stroll?

-KB