Oh, right. Blogging.

Three projects in the works right now:
1. Designer’s statement and process book (which would be more fun if I didn’t have less than a week to complete)

2. Visual interpretation of the wall street bombing of 1920 – I’ve found a way to tie my plexiglass idea in with a project that actually communicates something, which is good. It’s always good to communicate something, especially when you’re a communications designer.

This project is an exploration of how the city’s built environment communicates to us. What we project onto our surroundings to make it more legible for ourselves, and then creating symbols to represent that knowledge and make it accessible for others. A symbol system will uncover the hidden meaning of a historical location on Wall Street, and tell a story of the place through abstraction.

I want to make a physical object made out of many layers of removable Plexi to create a new space within the existing space of the everyday world for people to enter freely and see a location in a new light. This is a long story, but I will try to sum up:

America’s First Age of Terrorism
At noon on September 16th, 1920, a wagon passed by lunchtime crowds on Wall Street in New York City. It stopped across the street from the headquarters of the J.P. Morgan bank at 23 Wall Street, on the Financial District’s busiest corner. Inside, 100 pounds of dynamite with 500 pounds of heavy, cast-iron sash weights exploded in a timer-set detonation, sending the slugs tearing through the air. The horse and wagon were blasted into small fragments. The 38 victims, most of whom died within moments of the blast, were mostly young and worked as messengers, stenographers, clerks and brokers. Many of the 143 injured suffered serious wounds. The bomb caused over $2 million in property damage and wrecked most of the interior spaces of the Morgan building. It was the worst terrorist attack in New York until the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
The J.P. Morgan bank had emerged as the single most powerful financial institution in the world, and both the firm and its principals had been under increasing attack since it arranged a huge loan to help the allies keep the Great War going. The Morgan building was believed to be the target of the attack but only one employee of the firm was killed, and nearly all the bank’s employees were back at their desks the next morning, some bandaged and bruised. Crews cleaned up the area overnight to allow for business to operate normally the next day, but in doing so they destroyed physical evidence that might have helped police investigations. The bomb was an immeasurably cruel device that blew people apart where they walked outside, but it merely pocked the firm’s impenetrable marble walls. As with most terrorist attacks, most of the victims were innocent bystanders who made a modest living and did not symbolize American capitalism at all.

I took these photos EARLY this morning. The damage is still visible on the building, which is crazy since the bombing was in 1920. It makes me realize that that wasn’t actually that long ago relative to all of history. The characters in Boardwalk Empire are more like us than we’d like to think. Maybe these original terrorists are more like current religious radicals than we’d like to think.

There are many similarities in the motives and outcomes of this first terrorist attack and 9/11 and each similarity teaches us something about the current age of terrorism. Symbols are an accessible way to bring this information into the built environment.

3. Audio collages – game for people to match the audio recording to a neighborhood based on spliced together fragments of conversations and ambient sounds. I’m putting this up on a website at some point in the next week – it won’t be anything fancy, just a place for people to go and play the game. That may mean I will have to program a form on the site and a submit button. Hm. Never done that before so I will have to discuss with Mark tomorrow.

Part of the inspiration for this project came from the book Image of the City by Kevin Lynch (1960). In it they compare three cities – Boston, Jersey City and Los Angeles – and go through a very scientific process of interviewing residents to gather their visual impressions of the city. They were only concerned with the physical characteristics of the city and how the legibility increased for certain areas. Also, they studied how the legibility of the city created more of an attachment to certain neighborhoods.

Reading this definitely made me think of the city in a different way – in terms of the layout of the streets, contours and symbols that make a neighborhood distinctive. I’ve interviewed nine or so people so far and these are the questions I’ve been asking: (they change based on the direction the conversation goes, because I sometimes ask follow up questions when they bring up interesting points. Also different neighborhoods bring up different questions)

1. What first comes to mind, what symbolizes the word(s) [their neighborhood] for you?
2. Please draw a quick sketch of map as if you were making a rapid description of the neighborhood to a stranger, covering all the main features.
3. When you are commuting to work or doing errands in the neighborhood, describe the sequence of things you see as you picture yourself making the trip.
4. Do certain streets have a particular feeling? Do you enjoy walking down some streets more than others and why?
5. What parts of [their neighborhood] are most disctinctive?

Since all of my work so far has been visual, I wanted to see what happens with the isolation of only one sense – the sense of hearing. By recording the many layers of sound in the environment maybe there is a lot that can be learned about the city. Can you define and recognize a neighborhood based on it’s sound? Do different neighborhoods have distinctive or iconic noises? Can you capture the character of a community through sound alone? And can otherwise hidden aspects of communities be revealed through sound?

I chose four neighborhoods to explore: Chelsea, West Village, Lower East Side and Downtown (FiDi). Besides the fact that they have very distinctive populations and are/have been going through major transitions, I was interested in the difference in street pattern. Downtown was the earliest Dutch settlement, and looks like more organic like the medieval cities of Europe. The Lower East Side has shorter rectangular blocks, and the grid in Chelsea creates extremely long rectangular blocks. Greenwich Village pattern is a mess, almost on the grid but streets intersecting at random intervals and angles.

It’s been a really interesting process so far speaking with different residents of these neighborhoods. I’ve learned a lot about the differences in community, and especially people’s thoughts on gentrification. I didn’t even bring it up myself, but nearly everyone mentioned it at one time during the interview.

And I forgot to mention, we have two weeks to complete these projects for final critique and set up our presentation. Actually one week for #1, which suddenly changed from two weeks for some reason.

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

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