In Site. In Sight. Nov14


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In Site. In Sight.

This fall, the Gehl studio, an interdisciplinary studio led by Bianca Hermansen, Gehl architects, Nancy Rottle, Landscape Architecture, and Jim Nicholls, Architecture,  has been envisioning the West of 15th University District as an eco-district; a community that is economically, environmentally, and most importantly, socially sustainable. To reacquaint ourselves with our all too familiar surroundings and instigate a fresh approach to the design process, we began at a microcosmic level: the quick win. A quick win is a short-term yet effective catalyst of change and public space activator that achieves compelling results with minimal effort. A quick win can be anything ranging from an event, artwork, or infrastructure. With the goals of reactivating public space and engaging with the community, the studio sited five different art installations which were low cost, easily implementable, easily removable, and provocative. The installations were in place during the first week of October and are presented here, in order from the most temporary to the most permanent.

1.Occupy Dance Party

For fifteen fleeting moments, the exterior lobby of the Wells Fargo building on 15th Avenue N and NE 45th Street was a spectacle filled with life, far more interesting than it ever has been or ever was designed to be. By simply covering the fluorescent lights with colorful plastic, rolling out a red (paper) carpet, flashing strobe lights, and playing music from powerful stereo; A bland concrete staircase to nowhere became a stage set for public life. Participants were handed lights to dance with rave-style, and in photographs these streaky movements artfully blend with the taillights of passing cars. Advertised by a few posters and word of mouth, the occupy dance party was meant as a commentary for a need of public life on our streets.

2. Leave your Mark

On the morning of Saturday, October 6th, the University District farmer’s market featured an extraordinary array of colors aside from the vegetables. Stealthy students quickly and covertly poured biodegradable, vibrant paint into taped off squares onto the sidewalks of two street intersections. These squares of paint became stamp-pads to record the tracks and traces of passerby, which rapidly blossomed out into collages of hand prints, footprints, tire treads, and text.  Although the health department and farmer’s market security were less than pleased with the colorful display and tried to zone off the paint with caution tape and hazard cones, it did little to discourage people from dipping their feet into the pools of fuchsia and blue. This installation was meant to reflect upon our modes of travel, invite people to interact and play, and to create an ephemeral mural reflecting the community of the University District.

3. The Heart of the City

With surreal timeliness, the lives of two grand elm street trees afflicted with Dutch elm disease were eulogized shortly before their ultimate demise to chainsaw and wood chipper two days later. The two trees, #8786 and #8787 located at the intersection of NE Campus Parkway and the Ave, were slated for removal with white spray paint “X” marks on their trucks. To memorialize the trees’ service of shade, clean air, and beauty, an illuminated chipboard heart covered in bright orange and red leaves was suspended between their branches. A motion activated speaker played chainsaw noises and a QR code on top of the sensor provided a link to a website about these trees. This artistic statement was meant to draw attention to the natural amenities present in the U-District and their importance to the community. The website link from the QR code can be found here:

4. The Doors

A high retaining wall runs the length of Fifteenth Avenue, creating a solid barrier against the street and surrendering any hope of pedestrian life with no visual relief or invitations to linger. But for one weekend, the three bright yellow doors stood in stark contrast to the dull gray of the concrete. Two of the doors were operable and rested slightly ajar, inviting curiosity and interaction. One opened to an image of the Burke museum entrance, as if the retaining wall and berm were not there. Another door featured current exhibit posters and directions to the museum.  The third door, though unable to be opened, invited reactions and dialogue about the U District with the words You District, You Dream, You Post painted above notepads, pens, and a mail slot in the face of the door. This outlet for feedback proved immensely popular and achieved the goal of permeating the wall, as it were, to reconnect the University with the public.

5. Ping-Pong Parkway

Campus Parkway. Such a vast space with high visibility and great potential for overflow of life from the newly constructed dorms, but it is rarely, if ever, used. Traffic on either side of the median makes the space loud, uncomfortable, and seemingly exposed. Even though one segment of the parkway has been designed with steel furniture, inspiring quotes, and a speaker’s corner, there is no invitation to draw people into the space. So, a group of students saw fit to place two ping pong tables, chalk board with a nest of ping pong balls, and a string of paddles to provide that invitation. The project proved an enormous success, with constant day and night-time use and no vandalism. One ping pong table has now moved beneath the northeast entry stairs of Gould Hall where it is still available for play, and planning is currently underway to raise funds and secure permission for a permanent steel ping pong table, which will weigh about four tons, to complete the design of the speaker’s corner on the median of Campus Parkway.

Written by Victoria Kovacs

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