Posted: September 29th, 2011 | Author: genevieve | Filed under: Urban Experience in the Networked Age | No Comments »
I observed the corner of 53rd St and 5th Avenue. For my previous post I walked up and down 54th St between 6th and 7th, but I was curious how a street with more of a variety of visitors would be for this exercise. I work on 53rd St but never go to 5th Avenue from the subway station, so I was curious to sit there a while and observe.
I decided to sit on the St. Thomas Church stairs, partly for convenience, and partly because it offered a good vantage point to observe people who were more stationary, people who had decided to sit on the steps.
It was interesting to observe the different types of passersby. I started observing at the beginning of rush hour, so there were many men and women in business suits rushing to get home. Solo people tended to be more engrossed in their cell phones than people traveling in pairs. However, there were many people who walked together but did not speak to one another. Their body language and proximity implied a connection, an intimacy, but their speech (or lack of it) made it seem as though they could just as well have been on their own.
I read a selection from Goffman’s Relations in Public for another class, and it helped me become attuned to the minute body communication that people exchange as they maneuver through a busy sidewalk. Some walkers are faster than others, and they must dart and twist around a group of people walking side by side. All of this is done wordlessly and constantly. In all of my time observing I did not see anyone come into conflict or bump into one another, despite the number of people on the street.
In general, the largest category of person was a solo walker, mostly passing quickly. Then there were couples, either romantic or friendly, and these people passed more slowly. Couples who also happened to be tourists took their time the most. They paused to look at their maps, to window shop, to take a break, to buy drinks from the pretzel vendor.
Near me sitting on the steps were a variety of demographic. There were tourists taking a break, people on their own killing time (usually absorbed in an iPhone or Blackberry), but the dominant characters were a group of two homeless men, who were mostly shooting the shit with each other but periodically would yell out to the general direction of the sidewalk, “help the homeless, let me get something to eat tonight.” The men were the only African American people I saw for a long time at the intersection. A young black man came walking by carrying mixtape CDs, and instead of asking him for money the homeless men greeted him. Here are my notes detailing the encounters that the homeless men had with people they seemed to know:
homeless men fist pound man with mixtape cd, they seem to know one another, but he is in a hurry.
homeless men know another guy with baseball cap. Almost everyone else on this street is white, and the two people they’ve been friendly with have been black.
another african american man approaches the homeless men, possibly homeless as well. He decides to sit
one homeless man left and was replaced by another
many people walk by with shopping bags. no one with shopping bags gives anything to the homeless men.
homeless men greet a man in a nice suit, a very well dressed white man, this makes me feel better for some reason. he goes into the church. perhaps that is how they know him.
the homeless men they to a white homeless man. he seems in not the best way.
In general the people who lingered the longest were homeless, and 3 out of the 4 homeless men I observed on the steps were black. There were hardly any other black people I saw walking on the street, and the few that I did see were dressed professionally.
Here are my categories for the types of people I observed, ranked according to length of time staying in one place, from least to most:
Runners – run by
Rush hour people – pass by extremely quickly
Shoppers – walk by at a more leisurely pace than rush hour people
Tourists – take a bit more time on the sidewalk
People killing time – have decided to sit on stairs
Workers – here until the job done
Homeless – here until they decide to go somewhere else
I would say that networked devices have definitely shaped the ways that people encounter their surroundings. The payphones installed on the northeast side of the intersection remained unused the entire time I was there. At this point they are vestiges of a previous world. While most of the time smartphones made people interact with their device more than with their surroundings, there were two tourists who stopped for a long time to look at content on one of their iPhones. This seemed to be a kind of social interaction, albeit indirect.
Here are a few more photos I was able to capture of the scene from my vantage point on the stairs.
Tourists look at both a paper map and a map on a tablet. Eventually they abandoned the tablet for the paper map.
Workers across the street stand on scaffolding to take apart a billboard. Two men in dress shirts and slack stand there observing them for the whole time the men worked.
Posted: September 26th, 2011 | Author: genevieve | Filed under: Site-Specific | 1 Comment »
Our first assignment in Site Specific was to envision and implement an intervention on the High Line. I worked with Doug Thistlethwaite and Miguel Bermudez. We bounced around a few ideas around about what we wanted to do, but finally settled on installing a red carpet on the walkway. We’ve been talking in class about what gives the High Line its unique characteristics – its feeling as a “destination,” a promenade, an elite location, a place to see and be seen – and we decided to try and see what calling attention to those characteristics might make people do. We wanted to call attention that in a place like New York, the High Line sort of has this ability to make everyone a celebrity. In addition, I think we enjoyed the visual aspect of seeing a burst of red against all the green and brown foliage. As Doug said in an email, “I like it for its joyousness and passivity.”
So we set about getting our supplies. I was able to find a somewhat cheap rental option – a 15 ft by 3 ft carpet for $40. Budget was definitely the limiting factor for this project, and if we could have afforded it, we would have liked a larger carpet. We were also worried about what would happen if it rained, but the weather held out for most of the morning and early afternoon.
In order to simulate the feeling of having visitors to the High Line feel as though they were somehow celebrities, just by their presence up there, we also brought a tripod, and large camera with flash and umbrella, so that when people walked by on the carpet we also took their picture. The camera setup served a dual purpose as part of the installation and method of documentation.
Locating our installation was a bit of an organic process. We knew we wanted to put it somewhere where people would walk on it, preferably in the normal pathway so that they would have to encounter it. We also wanted a sight line that made an impact, that people could see for a while in their approach, so that it built anticipation for what was coming. We decided to install it right around 27th St, on the newer portion of the High Line.
Visually, I liked this location. I think there’s something odd about approaching a long stretch of the pathway and seeing a red carpet in the middle of, a carpet to nowhere so to speak. The problem with this location was that our carpet did not span the width of the walkway. People ended up doing what people do when they don’t understand something, or don’t want to upset anything unnecessarily – they walked around it. There were a few playful people who walked on top of the carpet, but most of these people were polite enough to ask first.
So after a while of seeing people’s reactions to (or avoidance of) the carpet in this location, we decided to try a different location to see what people would do. Our second location is the overlook facing west on the other side of the new theater, around 26th St. We placed the carpet so that the end of it was on the main pathway, and the rest of it led to the overhang, jutting up against the railing. This location ended up working much better with the width of the carpet we had, because people picked up on the fact that the carpet was supposed to lead you somewhere to be seen. We moved the tripod and camera setup nearby, but after a while we realized that it was making people too self conscious, and they were avoiding the carpet so that they wouldn’t have to endure the camera flash. At the end of our experiment, we took the tripod away to observe what happened what people just saw the carpet. It ended up being a much more engaging installation without the camera and tripod. The carpet was striking enough, and the path it led people towards was easy enough to stop at and take each others’ picture. It became yet another picturesque photo op stop on the High Line.
In the next iteration, I would definitely try to see what installation a red carpet the same width as the pathway would do, so that people were forced to walk on top of it. I’m not sure if the camera and flash are necessary, but perhaps they’d work better with a wider carpet as well.
I enjoyed this exercise because it helped me think more in the mode of experiential installations, and how something without much form (but perhaps a lot of visual and cultural connotations) can resonate within a space. In the end I think our project was very conceptual – an area I haven’t explored too much in my previous work, but one I find challenging and interesting nonetheless.
I haven’t yet had this project critiqued, so I would be interested to hear what people’s responses are to reading this entry, and perhaps we can explain our process or answer any questions on the High Line on Thursday.
In terms of audiovisual or textual references, here is a funny installation that comments on the role of rugs as decorative object, but calls attention to the inherent qualities in rugs when used in art installations. Not sure this is what Marina had in mind…
Posted: September 23rd, 2011 | Author: genevieve | Filed under: Site-Specific | No Comments »
Marina assigned us an hour-long in class exercise to be completed in pairs at the Bobst Library. The prompt was to create a set of instructions for someone to intervene with library.
Here is Marina’s Brief:
Instruction Set for Strangers or. How to Re-use the Library
Groups of 2.
make a walking tour or instruction set.
It must have at least 3 features, stops or instructions.
Do not alter the space in any way. All alterations should exist solely in your instructions.
These could include
- reconfiguring the expectations of the space
- redefining the meanings of the space(s)
- redefining the uses of the space(s)
- reassigning aspects of the space to the imaginary
You could alter the space
- by altering the participants’ physical movement
- by leveraging specific sensory perceptions (sound, touch, sight, smell) or through the deprivations of these
- by shifting the code, and guiding a participant’s facilities at interpretation
I worked with Chien-Yu to come up with a set of instructions for the library. Our process was pretty open, we wandered around, moving up the floors, finding vistas, entering different spaces to see what the mood felt like in each of them. On the way, we stumbled up on the East Asian Studies area and she showed me this amazing scroll painting that she recognized. We ended up with two sets of instructions. One is much more about the space of the library, and the other is about the social aspect.
Here are the instructions we made:
Instructions for Bobst Library
by Chien Yu and Genevieve
1. Find an area of stacks on any floor of the library that appeals to you.
2. Go to the first shelf in the stack.
3. Find a book that draws your attention.
4. Remove that book, and the three or four books around it. Place them nearby on the shelf, preferably on the other side of some bookends.
5. Look through the hole you made.
6. Go to the other side of the stack, and repeat the process on the other side of the hole.
7. Continue this process as long as you wish.
8. Observe the space and other people through this little frame.
1. Find an empty seat which is occupied by someone’s belongings.
2. Write a little note to them.
3. Place it on the seat.
We came up with the first set of instructions by experimenting with the books in the stacks. We thought it was interesting how you could catch glimpses of people when you peered through the open spaces around the books. We wanted to try to see if we could create a sightline across many stacks, so that you had a little tunnel of vision through the books.
Posted: September 23rd, 2011 | Author: genevieve | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
I was at the Bobst Library doing an assignment, and decided to see how my camera’s white balance would work when I was taking a picture into the sun. I’m using a Panasonic Lumix LX3. The first image is much bluer than the picture I took after using the gray card to white balance. This is probably to do with the florescent lighting in the library, more than pointing into the sunlight.
Also, I’m having trouble uploading raw files, so I need to compress them down to jpeg or tiff. Actually I did png.
Before White Balance
After White Balance
Posted: September 22nd, 2011 | Author: genevieve | Filed under: Urban Experience in the Networked Age | No Comments »
For the Networked Streets Walking assignment, I decided to walk a block close to where I work in Midtown. I knew that midtown Manhattan would offer a fertile selection of networked objects, especially surveillance cameras. This was certainly the case. It got to the point where I found myself snapping pictures of things almost every step I took. I started walking at the southeast corner of 54th Street, where it meets 6th Avenue. There is a large Hilton Hotel on the corner that takes up a large part of the block. I continued walking west on 54th St toward 7th Ave. Then I crossed north to the other side, and started walking back down 54th St heading east until I reached 6th Avenue again.
There were a few objects that I had no idea how to identify, but they seemed to have some sort of networked quality to them. Meaning they had conduit coming out of them, or were mounted to the side of a building for no other discernible reason. Here are a few that puzzled me:
Wraps the corner of the Hilton Hotel. Not sure they're cameras, but they could be.
Some sort of speaker embedded in a granite wall?
I'm not sure what this black thing attached to the wall could be
DEP = Department of Environmental Protection. I'm thinking this could be some sort of energy saving measure, like an electricity meter or similar
I saw many many surveillance cameras along my way. Most of them adhered to the standard boxy long rectangular form factor, while others definitely went for the globe enclosure, which might protect them better if they do swivel. My favorite cameras by far were ones mounted not too far above eye level inside a public lobby area on the south side of 54th St. They looked like little camera robot people, and it seems they’re designed more to influence people’s behavior by knowing they’re being watched, because they’re really hard to ignore.
I think these are the cutest cameras of them all
The other interesting quality about walking this street on this particular day, is the heightened security in place to prepare for the Clinton Foundation’s inaugural kickoff at MoMA the next day. There were many secret service men (and even dogs). There was also a news crew there to report on the heightened security, or possibly something else related to the Clinton Foundation.
The Secret Service are an interesting take on networked people, since they are stereotypically so networked to one another, with an ear piece constantly in their ear giving directives or what not. Yet I think they also operate completely separately from the network that most of the rest of the people and objects do. I know a museum curator who had organized an exhibition opening that former president George HW Bush attended, and he told me that the Secret Service actually put up their own networks for all communications wherever they go. At this museum they had tech experts come in to lay their own cable for servers and telecommunications. He said they were highly efficient and it seemed like they did it routinely.
In general, I enjoyed this experience. I realized that there are an incredible amount of networked objects, cameras especially, that we encounter every day. At times I also felt watched, since I was doing something a little odd by taking pictures of so many things on one street for a very long time. This was especially heightened as I got closer to the Secret Service men, since I was sure they’d at least ask me why I needed to take so many pictures of buildings. But in the end they didn’t care. It’s New York and I’m sure they’ve seen weirder.
In order to spatially locate the numerous pictures I took during my time walking each side of this street, I put my images into a Google Map, which can be accessed here.
View Networked Street in a larger map
Posted: September 11th, 2011 | Author: genevieve | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »
The article by Rittel and Webber entitled “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” lays out their idea of the “wicked problems” that face anyone working in the public sphere, though is geared towards urban planners. It was written in 1973, and seems to focus mainly on working in the United States. Despina assigned this as the first week’s reading in Principled Design, which is primarily focused on designing for social change, especially in the developing world.
This reading brings up a lot important fundamentals that people working in the social sciences need to consider, and that designing to improve people’s lives is involves confronting “wicked problems,” meaning problems that have no obviously clear solutions and many interconnected causes and effects. It contrasts previous approaches and models that were used to generate and evaluate design solutions: efficiency and rationalism, among others. It gives a good framework to see how planners have shifted gears to view problems and solutions in more holistic and interconnected ways, and was good to read before embarking on this week’s assignment of making our own model of the different forces at play when conceptualizing the context of a design solution.
I am still mulling over possible visual and experiential models that I’d like to try out. I think the goal is more to create a tool or a platform that people can frame a specific design problem within. General context, more than fixed network.