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Southwest plane landing over the numbers

Planeview Park

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What follows are images taken at Planeview Park, a small plot of grass at the foot of LaGuardia’s Runway 4.

It’s a remarkable example of a very satisfying and low maintenance approach to park making, in contrast to some of the lovely but very expensive and maintenance-intensive parks of recent vintage: just some grass and trees; some benches & trash cans; and a steady spectacle for the watching.

Families gather, the kids run along the fence, the planes land close overhead, time is passed with satisfaction.

No interpretive signage, interactive artifacts, or infantilizing design elements required.

Planeview aerial mapPlaneview is part of the chain of open space created to install the runway approach lights, a peeling away of older structures in service to the technology of landing, with ragged edges and an adhoc feel that is typical of many projects in our fair city (and not without its charm)

Looking west at people hanging out and the airliner on finalLooking west at people hanging out and the airliner on final; it is a relief to be so close to airplanes without having to go through security…

North towards the tarmac, the chain link fence exaclty what you want here: kids running back and forth dragging sticks on it, watching the planes and cars, making noise, not a single bit of instruction or warning requiredNorth towards the tarmac, the chain link fence exactly what you want here: kids running back and forth dragging sticks on it, watching the planes and cars, making noise, not a single bit of instruction or warning required…

Southwest 737 on short finalSouthwest 737 on short final…

Southwest plane landing over the numbers Over the numbers…

Southwest plane touchdownTouchdown

Coney Island Beach covered in snow with red flag

Coney Island in Winter

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Coney Island Beach covered in snow with red flag A strong onshore wind, the beach coated with snow…

Rime ice in the surf Rime ice in the surf…

roller coaster like cursive in the galeThe coaster like cursive in the gale…

No voices on the snow covered boardwalkNo voices on the boardwalk…

Nathan's Hotdog standYet Nathan’s is glowing…

Here workers have scribed the ship's lines (enlarged from a scale half-breadth plan) at full scale onto the wood floor (see the curving lines to the right of the image) and are starting the construction of wood jigs needed to create the curved steel plates for a ship's hull

Ce ne est pas un loft: Modern Art & The Practical Loftsman

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As the new Whitney Museum of American Art works its way to completion, I’ve noted among its bragging points that it will have “largest column-free museum gallery in New York… that responds to the industrial character of the neighboring loft buildings.”

While I am generally a friend of NYC-bred hucksterism (“The Largest Gallery in New York!”), it struck me that the original meaning of “loft” has become so lost that a reckoning is in order.

A "loft building" gallery for the viewing of Art (rendering courtesy of the Whitney Museum)A “loft building” gallery for the viewing of Art
(rendering courtesy of the Whitney Museum)

What follows are a series of images – most taken from the magnificent The Practical Loftsman – showing the original meaning of the loft: a large column-free space dedicated to the detailing & fabrication of complex ship geometries at the hands of skilled tradespeople.

These industrial spaces were once common in NYC, providing thousands of jobs in the manufacturing of durable goods, and direct inspiration (not to mention cast-off materials) for the great wave of American modern artists that defined NYC in the decades after World War II, the work of Carl Andre and Richard Serra serving as two examples.

While the disappearance of these jobs from NYC over the past 40 years may have been compensated for in economic terms (the jury is still out on this question…), their loss – the vanishing of an extraordinary class of Makers – has arguably been a devastating blow to the creative energy of this city.

And where young people of little schooling could have once been employed in lofts learning a trade and making useful goods, they are now only employed in lofts to serve as guards, standing mute witness to objects of no practical purpose, and asked to act only in keeping said objects from ever being touched.

Where is the Art in that?

View of a typical ship building loft showing the vast scale of operationsView of a typical ship building loft showing the vast scale of operations. Once common in New York, these spaces, like the shipyards themselves, have been eliminated by off-shoring production and digital technology.

Here workers have scribed the ship's lines (enlarged from a scale half-breadth plan) at full scale onto the wood floor (see the curving lines to the right of the image) and are starting the construction of wood jigs needed to create the curved steel plates for a ship's hullHere workers have scribed the ship’s lines (enlarged from a scale half-breadth plan) at full scale onto the wood floor (see the curving lines to the right of the image) and are starting the construction of wood jigs needed to create the curved steel plates for a ship’s hull.

A close-up of two men starting to layout curved wooden splines on the basis of a drawing - a trade that rewarded experience and did not require much formal educationA close-up of two men starting to layout curved wooden splines on the basis of a drawing – a trade that rewarded experience and did not require much formal education.

The setup of a compound curve: note the changing angles of the vertical wood battens to describe the bow plate. Hardwood floors were critical in loft spaces to scribe lines and easily anchor jigs such as theseThe setup of a compound curve: note the changing angles of the vertical wood battens to describe the bow plate. Hardwood floors were critical in loft spaces to scribe lines and easily anchor jigs such as these – working flexibility was paramount, and the floors aged quickly. Floors like this are now merely a motif, among many motifs appropriated from our dying manufacturing sector, for which the original technical necessity has been forgotten.

workaday molds of complex shape and technical purposeThese workaday molds of complex shape and technical purpose would look at home in most museums of modern art, but like many other products of skilled trades that once had a strong presence in New York’s economy and social life, they have disappeared from our shores, leaving the fetishized, purposeless objects we see in our galleries to exist without context.

Carl Andre's "Redan", 1964Carl Andre’s “Redan”, 1964.

hand-powered sidewalk elevator detail

Discovery: Hand Powered Sidewalk Elevators

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A walkthru of an old property led us to the sidewalk vault (a cellar level room beyond the property line, beneath the sidewalk) and revealed an interesting artifact: there, at the ceiling, an assembly of three pulleys held together by an iron plate and supported by a rusty post – what can this strange device be?

hand-powered sidewalk elevator detailA bit of digging around on Google Books led us to believe we’d found the remnants of a hand-powered sidewalk elevator; all that remained were the iron cross-heads and their distinctive 3-pulley arrangement.

hand-powered sidewalk elevator planThe gear-driven, tension wire lifting mechanism was gone, as was the wooden platform that would have shuttled goods from cellar to sidewalk and back, but it was easy to imagine the utility of the mechanism.

Sedgwick sidewalk elevator advertisementSedgwick sidewalk elevator advertisement 2

And here it must be said: between the devastation of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, these ingenious stand-alone hand-powered mechanical contrivances of the 19th century hold a great, comforting appeal. I can’t wait to share this “new” wonder..