Client: Museum of the City of New York
Location: New York, NY, United States
Completion date: 2013
Artwork budget: $80,000
Wendy Evans Joseph, Chris Cooper, and Wonwoo Park
Cooper Joseph Studio
Cooper Joseph Studio
This site-specific light sculpture marks a new era for the Museum of the City of New York, igniting the majestic circular stair at the heart of the historic interior. As visitors move between floors, the optical effects inherent in the geometry of a uniform spatial grid generate an array of dynamic patterns. In a way that the Museum has not seen in years, the public is engaging with the architecture and sharing the experience with others, joining old and new in one phenomenon.
1. Change public perception. In order to broaden the base of attendance, including tourists and the New York City community alike, the Museum of the City of New York wanted to clearly show its present relevance – not just a venue for historical displays. The sculpture creates an exciting new look for the central spaces and entry of the building.
2. In order to increase efficiency of operations, foster public health and be more sustainable, encourage the use of the monumental stair instead of the elevators. The brilliance of the light and the exciting visual illusions make walking up the stair exciting. Visitors quickly understand that from the stair you can understand the full circular form of the sculpture.
3. Emphasize an interest in sustainability by employing state of the art LED technology, that uses minimal energy, generates virtually no heat, and will last for years without replacement.
4. Coordinate this work in design spirit and spatially of other interior design improvements -- including a new café (2nd floor), along with furnishings and graphics that are part of an overall multi-year master plan.
Fabrication: The simplicity of the concept demanded precise execution in every detail. The sculpture is the product of computer-generated components that are hand assembled. Connection points are engineered to create the utmost abstract simplicity. Each light diode, or pixel, is constructed from double-sided circuit boards, on which white LED chips are mounted. The use of naked (non-lensed) chips provides the most precise point of light available. Getting this kind of work done on a limited budget was possible through careful collaboration with a Brooklyn-based group of young, industrial designers. Their enthusiasm for the project and technical skill helped make this possible.
Integration with the historic shell: Although there had been a historic chandelier where the sculpture is suspended, the execution required coordination with the structural engineer to hang extra supports from the steel super structure. Electrical wiring and other trades were brought in as well.
Social media: Even casual passersby, able to see it through the museum’s front door, are attracted inside. Visitors are immersed in the design upon entry, and all day long you see people strewn on the bench below, taking pictures and sharing them through various media outlets.
As with many creative projects, the complexity of the artistic experience cannot be completely anticipated. While the commission was for a work of art that would enliven the space to make more of the experience, the enormity of the change in the public’s use of the building and their perception of the museum’s mission has been much more significant. With increased awareness and engagement, not to mention attendance, the sculpture has had success beyond the hopes of the design team and the client.