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urbanity

JR on HBO: Inside Out Documentary Debuts

Watch French street artist JR get his TED Prize wish for a global art project in Inside Out, a fresh-from-the-Tribeca-Film-Festival documentary that debuts tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO. Director Alastair Siddons (Turn it Loose) crisscrosses the globe–from Tunisia to Haiti, North Dakota to Pakistan–as people around the world come together to follow JR’s simple directions to “take a portrait photograph of yourself or someone you know and then paste it in the street, using it to stand up for something you care about.” More than 100,000 people responded to his call by uploading their portraits to the project’s website for JR to print and display around the world. Explains Siddons, “This is a film about an artist giving away his method and the inspiring stories that follow that.” Sample a few in the film’s trailer (below):
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Diller Scofidio + Renfro on Turning Lincoln Center Inside Out

“After so many years of averting the border patrol between the disciplines of art and architecture, while inhabiting both yet claiming to be outsiders, this is the ultimate validation,” said Elizabeth Diller last Wednesday at the Plaza Hotel, as she joined partners Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro in accepting the American Academy of Rome’s Centennial Medal for their exceptional contributions to the worlds of architecture and the visual arts. The trio spent the previous evening at the New York Public Library, where they discussed their interdisciplinary design studio’s renewal of Lincoln Center. We asked writer Nancy Lazarus to attend the event and harvest some memorable quotes. Learn more on May 10, when Diller and Scofidio will be joined by DS+R monograph author Edward Dimendberg for a book talk at the Center for Architecture.

Redesigning Lincoln Center was an epic undertaking that involved a prominent public landmark and a painstaking process that evolved over nearly ten years. Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the design studio behind most of the project, has chronicled their experiences in Lincoln Center Inside Out: An Architectural Account (Damiani). The three principals shared their views on the project and the book at a recent event hosted by New York Public Library and moderated by Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of architecture and design at MoMA. The DS+R trio is just as articulate as they are creative, so here are excerpts from that discussion.

On Lincoln Center’s design:
Diller: The old Lincoln Center was too elitist, solid, and turned its back on the neighborhood and community. We were drawn to the promenade levels where everyone pours out in the middle of events. We wanted to extend that social feeling to the rest of the project. We broke down the edges to enable events in the public spaces. There’s more symmetry now across the public and private spaces.

Scofidio: There were no photos of the old Lincoln Center except the main plaza with the fountain. Someone said that in the 1960s, plazas were designed to be desolate.

On how they approached the project:
Diller: To win the project we showed many ideas, since we tend to think in multiples, with different approaches and solutions. We demonstrated our affection for the place and showed how to take it to the next step. We felt we could do it justice and interpret it for contemporary culture. We wanted to transform Lincoln Center for the logic of our time.

Scofidio: We didn’t go in and say here are the problems we have to correct. We just said we can finish Lincoln Center.
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Guggenheim’s David van der Leer Named Director of Van Alen Institute

David van der Leer, who with Maria Nicanor developed and headed the curatorial team of the BMW Guggenheim Lab, will take the helm at Van Alen Institute beginning May 6. The NYC-based nonprofit architectural organization, whose mission is “to promote innovative thinking about the role of architecture and design in civic life,” selected van der Leer as executive director after an international search. He will succeed Olympia Kazi, who stepped down last May. Since then, Jeff Byles has served as interim director.

“David van der Leer represents a new type of commitment to the public realm that makes urban issues accessible to architecture and design professionals and everyday urban citizens alike,” said Stephen Cassell, chairman of the Van Alen’s board of trustees, in a statement issued Tuesday. “Van Alen Institute welcomes his initiative to develop more national and international competitions, studies, and programs relevant to the understanding of contemporary urban life.”

Jonas Damon Reveals Frog Design’s Vision for NYC Payphones

Ring! ring! It’s the future calling. With NYC’s current payphone contracts set to expire in 2014, the city is scouting for ways to modernize payphone infrastructure across the five boroughs and put all of that public space to the best possible use. Hence Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s appearance (via video link) at a December meeting of the New York Tech Meetup, where he announced the “Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge,” a competition to rally urban designers, planners, technologists, and policy experts to create physical and virtual prototypes that imagine the future of NYC’s public pay telephones. Frog Design hopped to it, and while the list of semi-finalists who will present their concepts at next Tuesday’s Demo Day has yet to be announced, something tells us Frog will be among them. In a talk on Saturday at Parsons’ Aftertaste symposium, Frog creative director Jonas Damon offered a sneak peek at the firm’s vision for payphones of the future:

NYC by Design: City-Wide Event to Showcase, Promote Design


X marks the spot. The identity for the new event was created by Base New York.

The Bloomberg Administration has been busy pumping up the NYC tech scene and fashion industry, and now it’s focusing on design of all disciplines with NYCxDESIGN, a collaboration among the City Council, Mayor’s Office, City agencies, and a steering committee of 33 design stars ranging from MoMA’s Paola Antonelli to AIGA/NY President Willy Wong. The inaugural twelve-day event, smartly sandwiched between Frieze and ICFF, kicks off on May 10 with happenings that will showcase NYC designers and more, from design-centric institutions and retailers to curators and educators, with the goal of driving economic development.

According to the Center for an Urban Future, NYC is home to more design firms than any other city (L.A. comes in a rather distant second), and the May event will seek to attract even more designers and manufacturers to the city, generate new sales and export opportunities for local designers, and increase design-based tourism. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is setting her sights even higher. “NYCxDesign will help demonstrate that New York City is the design capital of the world,” she said in a statement. London, Milan, and Paris–consider yourself warned.

Moby Praises ‘Baffling, Byzantine, Fantastically Uncohesive’ L.A. Architecture

The Getty is looking to seize the momentum of last year’s “Pacific Standard Time” L.A. art bonanza with an equally collaborative (yet smaller-scale) celebration of SoCal architecture. The new initiative, “Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.,” will take the form of 11 exhibitions and related events in and around Los Angeles that will run from April through July. Grab your dog-eared copy of City of Quartz and prepare to survey what $3.6 million in Getty-funded grants can do.

Among the exhibitions to look forward to: the Getty’s own “In Focus: Ed Ruscha” (“a concentrated look at Ruscha’s engagement with L.A.’s vernacular architecture, urban landscape, and car culture”), “The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA,” and “Quincy Jones: Building For Better Living” at the Hammer Museum. Moby is up for it. In the below video about “Pacific Standard Time Presents,” the musician, DJ, photographer, and en”tea“repreneur riffs on LA architecture, in all its “mind-numbingly complicated” glory.

Strip Tease: New Science Channel Series Takes Deeper Look at Cities

The Science Channel, our source for the highly unscientific adventures of misanthropic savant Karl Pilkington, has marshaled the forces of CGI animation for Strip the City. The new six-part series aims to “strip major cities naked of their steel, concrete, air, ocean, and bedrock–layer by layer, act by act–to explore their hidden infrastructure and solve key mysteries surrounding their origins, geology, archaeology, industry, weather, and engineering.” First up on the stripping block (pole?) is San Francisco, where thare’s fire-fighting water in them thar valleys. Take a sip of your urbane beverage every time someone says “plate tectonics.” Watch a clip below and tune in to Science on Tuesday nights for new episodes that will dramatically dislodge the infrastructure of the likes of Sydney, London, and Toronto.

Flash Mob Lights Up Grand Central

New York’s Grand Central Terminal is an ideal spot for a flash mob–remember when Moncler Grenoble’s stone-faced model-dancers took to the floor in Carlo Mollino-inspired skiwear? As part of the big 100th birthday bash, the insta-happening experts at Improv Everywhere recruited 135 LED-flashlight-wielding performers to light up Grand Central’s grand windows, mesmerizing passersby. The impressively choreographed affair, a project cooked up with MTA Arts for Transit, was something of a homecoming for Improv Everywhere, which in 2007 staged “Frozen Grand Central,” a flash freeze that has racked up 32 million views on YouTube. Watch both successful “missions” below.


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Electrolux Design Lab Gets Urban Twist

The Electrolux Design Lab competition is back for its eleventh go-round, and this year the theme–urbanization–invites a broader array of entries than ever before. Design students (undergraduate or graduate) from around the world have until March 15 to submit creative ideas for an innovative product, accessory, consumable, or service that “would be seen as a breakthrough within the sector of social cooking, natural air, or effortless cleaning.”

Flummoxed by the concept of social cooking, and fearful that it may involve having to share dessert, we consulted Electrolux and learned that for this category, the judges are looking for ideas that address city dwellers’ “shortage of entertaining space and preparation time, whilst allowing us to live a healthier lifestyle.” This sounds like a job for Jetsons-style food pellets–after all, last year’s first-prize winner was Jan Ankiersztajn‘s Aeroball, a constellation of luminescent, helium-infused balls that floatingly filter and fragrance the air in a room. Noble gases win again. Begin the brainstorming process (where can we get some delicious yet effortless neon?) by watching highlights from last year’s finals, held at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan.

Gates Foundation Backs Scientific Study of Urban Slums

The word slum conjures images of the poorest quality housing, most unsanitary conditions, and dangerous–usually illegal–activities. But in developing countries, the word is free of its original, pejorative connatation and simply refers to lower quality or informal housing. Meanwhile, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) has developed a kind of slum-defining checklist that includes: inadequate access to safe water, sanitation, and other infrastrucure; poor structural quality of housing; overcrowding; and insecure residential status. Researchers at the Santa Fe Institute have secured funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to undertake a scientific study of a urban slums worldwide. The goal of the project, a collaboration with the nonprofit Slum Dwellers International (SDI), is to uncover some of the underlying principles common to rapid urbanization and the emergence of informal settlements.

“Part of what we will do is analyze data from 7,000 slum settlements around the world,” says Santa Fe Institute professor Luis Bettencourt, a physicist whose research includes studying urban organization and dynamics, in a statement issued recently. SDI has accumulated census-like data on many of the world’s slums, and researchers will combine and compare it across cultures, levels of socioeconomic development, geography, and time to identify common features of slums and test the data for accuracy. Subsequent stages of the project will examine how the SDI data was collected and find ways to make it most useful to scientists, policymakers, and others interested in urban development. Ultimately, the project will help to shape ongoing data-collection practices and generate new datasets. Added Bettencourt, “In this way, the project will help create standards through which informal communities can collect and use data about themselves and develop economic models to sustain these efforts.“

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