Blog: entries tagged with "public+space"

Many hands make light (art)work

Three pieces. The first two were passed along by a fellow DIYer who’s working on interactive electronic public art (thanks Gabe!):

GRL's Laser Tag system in operationFirst up, the Graffiti Research Lab and their collaborators have produced a laptop / camera / projector setup that lets you paint on the side of a building.

Their software lets you define the contours of the wall you’re projecting onto, then tracks the position of a laser pointer beam using video fed from the camera, and draws the resulting lines - with some simulated paint dripping, for added effect. Naturally, it’s open source, complete with instructions.

IMAGENext, Body Movies by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. Portraits are projected on a huge scale on walls surrounding a public square, revealed in the shadows thrown by passers-by. If people in the square arrange themselves in a matching pose, the projections switch. But much more interesting is the ways that people spontaneously interact, given the possibility of casting gigantic shadows of radically different sizes. It turns into instant mimed improv.

Hello from Pika PikaAnd finally, PIKA PIKA, a “lightning doodle project”. Doodler Takeshi explains:

We took a photo of each image using long exposures and put them together to make them look like one animation.

To work on this project,we went out to various places in Japan:parks,under the train track,the Tokyo Bay,school hallways,and so on.

We got all sorts of friends in different fields together to work on this project.
During the process,they got to know each other and discover new things. This is also about “communication”.
People can meet new friends as they create a piece art very easy which brings every one happiness.
We spend a very enjoyable evening at the workshop and the party through this animation.

The results are delightful to watch, too - it’s like a live performance of a Norman McLaren scratch-animation film, with luminous creatures and designs running riot through real physical spaces. I love how the “performers” are often faintly visible, but obscured, like bunraku puppeteers.

The beauty of these projects is how intuitive they are to use. Casting shadows, drawing with light… even if they’re a little tricky to get the hang of, the concept is utterly simple and inviting. And they let people think and interact with their whole bodies.

Now we need to make “computers for the rest of you.” GUI technology allows you to drag and drop, but it won’t notice if you twist and shout.
— Dan O’Sullivan and Tom Igoe, Physical Computing

The body is the large brain.
— Brian Eno

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Bringing back the Don

Artist's conception of a renaturalized Don River mouth, from the MVVA proposal.Monday night I caught the presentations by the four design teams chosen as finalists in the TWRC competition to create a plan for the Lower Don Lands - the area west of the Don Roadway, between the railway yard north of the Gardiner and the shipping channel. All four presentations had some great elements, and some were downright inspiring. (It was a stark contrast to the city’s street-furniture tender, a shabby excercise that seems to get worse the more we hear about it.)

The mouth of the Don River was once the largest wetland on the Great Lakes, according to one of last night’s presentations. 19th-century development and industry reduced it to a cesspit, and engineers finally confined it to a narrow concrete-lined ditch to prevent floods and channel sewage straight into the lake. Goal one of the competition, therefore, was to renaturalize the river mouth - a task that most of them handled well.

Here’s a rundown of the four proposals:


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Street furniture

(Expanded from a comment I left on the Spacing Wire - it helped crystallize some thoughts I’d been meaning to write about here.)

The City of Toronto has been working on a Coordinated Street Furniture Program for a few months now. They write:

Over the past decade, a number of new street furniture elements have been added onto Toronto’s streetscape. Some items such as the Post and Ring Bike Stand, have been individual successes. However all of these pieces, including transit shelters, waste/recycling bins, benches and phone booths have been designed as separate elements. Publication vending boxes have also grown in number and vie for space and prominence with other street furniture on the public sidewalk.

A coordinated street furniture program will harmonize the design and placement of these street amenities in an aesthetically appealing, functional and accessible manner.

While this may mean a better unified streetscape - a “signature look” for our newspaper boxes and lampposts and whatnot - I’m not big on the thought of the whole city having the same look from end to end.

Having standards for our street furniture, that’s hardly a bad thing. But standardizing it is a different matter. I’d much rather see pieces designed by local artists, like the Style In Progress utility box project, or Intersection Repair in Portland.

I’d love to see a provision in the program to let neighbourhoods decide on their own furniture… or even a bit of money toward helping people (artists, neighbourhood associations, anyone!) to create/improve street furniture. What if there was someone you could go to for advice on bench standards, or on how to make sure your awesome-looking bike loops are theft-proof?

Hmm. A new how-to column for Spacing?

In my fevered imagination I’m seeing a cross between Make magazine and Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language… perhaps I should look around for a blog to contribute to, or start one.

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Along the streets

Aerial viewTook a couple cool walks through the west end, down the hill north of Davenport that marks the ancient Lake Iroquois shoreline, past the old Wychwood streetcar barns and the Tollkeeper’s Cottage, a couple of souvenirs of Toronto’s transportation history. The former site is slated for conversion to artists’ studios, greenhouses and parkland, the latter for restoration as a national heritage site.

And there were other neat things along the way - parks and neighbourhoods and friendly cats, and other stuff that may provide inspiration for the radio scripts I’ve been working on.

Down on Bloor Street, we passed by the trio of construction sites at Varsity Stadium, the Royal Conservatory and the ROM, and wandered down Philosopher’s Walk past the Conservatory and the U of T music building, there to check out the second lamppost bass installed by Richard Bishop (who ran across my post about his earlier installation, the Kensington Bass, and was kind enough to alert me to the arrival of its new sibling). A bit tough to play, but fun! I’ll have to come by with my contact microphone and an amp or recorder sometime.

Eucan megabin Speaking of the urban landscape, city council is now seeking proposals to provide street furniture citywide. One side effect of this is that the Eucan “monster bin” project (see left) is dead. Good thing too - but we’d better keep an eye on the proceedings and let councillors know we want ads kept under control.

There’s also one really maddening bit: those three-sided “ad pillars” that AstralMedia have installed in parks are exempt from all this. They’re just off the sidewalk, and therefore within the jurisdiction of Parks and Rec, not Urban Planning.

More about this via Spacing Wire. Also, a Star article by Christopher Hume.

Also, on Friday, Newmindspace (instigators of Bubble Battles, subway and streetcar parties, and other revelry) are having a big mobile party they’re calling Flight Of Fancy, somewhere close to downtown. Route to be annouced via email. I’m gonna be there, hopefully playing some music!

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Dan Gibson, nature sound recordist. He actually died over a month ago, but I hadn’t heard until now. When I was a kid, we had the very first Solitudes LP, back before his son talked him into adding music (a smart commercial move, I’ll grant you, but no thanks - I’d rather have just the sounds).

Jane Jacobs, author and champion of neighbourhoods and cities as vital entities. Her book The Death and Life Of Great American Cities spurred me to study urban planning (I discovered it, in turn, through Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn). (via Spacing Wire)

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The Kensington Bass

From time to time, the four of us in this house get together with a friend or two for coffee or dinner and talk about Stuff - tonight it was a long conversation about spirituality and purpose and big things like that. Afterward, we wandered up Augusta St into Kensington Market, and sat for a while in Bellevue Square Park, chatting and watching the action: two rambunctious dogs, a grizzled guy with a staff who seemed to be putting hexes on people…

And then I looked up at the light standard next to our picnic bench, and saw that it had strings.

Someone had drilled holes in the aluminum pole, bolted on a makeshift bridge, and strung it like an upright bass. Above the nut (if it can be called that) was inscribed “The Kensington Bass”, and below, the artist’s name (though I understand he’s a bit secretive about it now). It was tunable, and in pretty good tune. It’s been there, according to the inscription, since June. I amused myself playing all the Soul Coughing songs I could remember. A bit hard to play for my hands, used to playing electric… but still, how delightful!

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Dundas Square

From the Chicago Tribune, March 19th: “Media giant’s rally sponsorship raises questions” (Thank you, Boing Boing.)

“In a move that has raised eyebrows in some legal and journalistic circles, Clear Channel radio stations in Atlanta, Cleveland, San Antonio, Cincinnati and other cities have sponsored rallies attended by up to 20,000 people.”

Now, let me tell you about Dundas Square. It’s an odd little triangle downtown that used to be full of cheap and/or sleazy shops, in an area that was seriously damaged by the construction of the giant Eaton Centre shopping mall next door. A year or three ago they knocked down the buildings to make way for a new public square.

Fair enough; downtown could use more of that sort of thing. But the concept for the square - essentially our own miniature version of Times Square - has always struck me as ridiculous. Times Square is awe-inspiring in its way: street advertising and trashy glitz taken to its greatest extreme. To mimic it is to miss the point. It’s tacky, uncreative, me-tooish - exactly the sort of thing that Canadians from one end of the country to the other love to mock Toronto for.

The square, then, is surrounded by billboards and giant screens showing full-colour video. And crowning it all is The Media Tower, on the northwest corner (it’s the drum-shaped thing in the photos). Essentially it’s a big box made of girders, several stories high, made for the express purpose of hanging ads on. Guess who owns it. Yay, Clear Channel!

On the other hand, Dundas Square has provided a nice location for antiwar demos. That’s one of the most important functions for a public square, after all. And it makes me feel a bit better.

And hey! There’s this big fat target waiting if agit-pranksters want to hang a banner or something. With lots of exposed girders to chain themselves to.

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