in the Public Realm
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Previous Newsletters Vol. 2  Issue 4 - April, 2012

When we started documenting artwork in the public realm for our very first map of Lower Manhattan in 2002 we discovered a 1970's era office building on Water Street whose arcade was filled with a nautical themed art collection. You could barely see the roof from the sidewalk but if you happened to glance upwards, there perched on top was a vintage WWI era biplane. Post 9/11 it cheered us up immensely. Weird and wonderful, we almost thought it was our secret. Well...

Melvyn Kaufman died last week. Like most good Jewish boys of his era, he went into the family business which in his family meant real estate. Over the course of his long career, he became one of New York's most colorful and interesting developers. Believing that lobbies for office buildings were dull and underutilized spaces, he filled them with some very unusual and whimsical artwork often commissioned in partnership with his favorite architect Emory Roth and his graphic designer Rudolph de Harak. What Melvyn Kaufman left us with is an idiosyncratic and highly personal collection of public art.

This month also the Architectural League is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Emerging Voices, their signature spring lecture series showcasing up and coming Architects. We've spent many an interesting evening over the past three decades in the audience (as we like to say aging in place). To look back and select one of the many compelling voices to highlight is an embarrassment of riches; we chose Architecture Research Office because we love their work, we went to their Emerging Voice Lecture and are more than thrilled that they won the 2011 Cooper Hewitt Design Award which officially validates the choice.

For us, April is about Legacies. Like the Bloomberg Administration as it completes its final year and scrambles to implement every civic improvement they can, we've been thinking a lot about the design choices people make now that have long term impacts on the cityscape.

Abby Suckle, President
Featured Art Collection:

As the driving force behind his firm's public Art Collection, Melvyn Kaufman liked commissioning unusual and often interactive artworks. While 767 Third Avenue was under construction, for instance, it turned out that there was an adjacent apartment building which featured what the Kaufman brothers considered a dull beige wall fronting their plaza. Their solution was to attach a tall grid of metal beams to the blank wall of the nearby apartment and create a 3-story high chessboard with 30 in wide chess pieces.

The chessboard features famous historical chess matches between world champions. Every Wednesday at noon a workman climbs into a cherrypicker and makes the next move. The flag nearby indicates which color moves next. To find out more about the game in progress, there is a concierge in the lobby; underneath are a few tables for enthusiasts to play their own games.

Another kinetic artwork commissioned by Kaufman is what some have called the world's largest digital clock filling up three stories of 200 Water Street's facade and keeping track of minutes, hours and seconds. The graphic red phone shelters were designed for the plaza below, street furniture which has survived both the advent of universal cellular phones and the repurposing of the building as a dorm for NYU students.

Chessboard (1981) Pamela Waters Studio

Digital Clock (1971) Rudolph De Harak

Phone Booths (1971) Rudolph De Harak

Sopwith Camel & Landing Strip (1971)

Inside the South Street Seaport Museum.
© Andrew Hindraker.

We've been collaborating with the Museum of the City of NY since 2002 when we began mapping Lower Manhattan. Uptown, they have just extended the wonderful Greatest Grid Show about the Manhattan Grid. In January, they took over the South Street Seaport Museum, which is several blocks away from the artwork at 77 Water Street. We thought it would be fun to start a feature highlighting museums.

Two weeks ago we had the pleasure of taking our annual walking tour from St Patricks Cathedral to Hells Kitchen. Not only was the weather perfect, but James Kaplan had added a lot of insights about Francis Perkins and was able to anchor what was an amazing career in Labor to her beginnings in the political world of the Irish. We'll add that section to the online tour soon.

Interesting Finds
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Featured Artist: LOUISE NEVELSON

Doris Freedman, founder of the Public Art Fund, worked with Mayor Beame and Joyce Pomeroy Schwartz then at Pace Gallery to commission Louise Nevelson to design not only the sculpture, Shadows and Flags, but the plaza itself including the trees and benches. Redesigned by Smith Miller+ Hawkinson after 9/11 it has been rechristened Louise Nevelson Plaza in her honor, the first time a plaza was named after a woman artist. As with much of her work, it features salvaged found materials assembled by hand and then cast in Cor-Ten Steel. In a similar spirit, when Hugh Stubbins the architect of the Citicorp Building was commissioned to replace St Peter's Church at the ground floor, he worked with Nevelson on the sculptures and the design of the chapel itself.

Shadows and Flags (1977)
Louise Nevelson

Erol Beker Chapel of the Good Shepherd (1977)
Louise Nevelson


In many ways ARO could be viewed as a role model for the architectural firm of the future. Rare is the firm that manages to blend a practice that is heavily committed to research with built projects spanning the spectrum from the intimate scale of interiors to the broad brushstrokes of urban design without losing focus as successfully as ARO does. A few highlights include the 500 square feet Times Square Recruiting Station completed in 1999, the Donald Judd House (under construction), and the project for the Rising Current Exhibition as Architects in Residence at the Museum of Modern Art.

Packard Hall Art and Music Building Addition (2005)
Architecture Research Office, photo © E. Felicetta

Rising Currents (2010) Architecture Research Office /
dLand Studio / Guy Nordenson
Donald Judd Home+Studio (Under Construction)
Architecture Research Office
Armed Forces Recruiting Station (1999)
Architecture Research Office / Parsons Brinkerhoff