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A Placemaker Abroad

Sam Choudhury, Placemaker at Village Well took some time off last year studying abroad in the marvellous cities of New York and Paris. Here you will find her share stories, inspirations and discoveries as she travelled the globe, stumbling upon the diverse and unique ways people interact and play with place from pop-up placemaking and street food craze in New York City to the romantic love lock bridges of Paris. Read on to see what Sam discovered as a placemaker abroad.

1. Pop-up Place Making? An Indoor pop-up park a welcome refuge in NYC winter

So pop-up everything has been the trend of late – bars, restaurants, parties and stores. Just in case you thought you’d seen it all, Open House Gallery in New York on Mulberry Street has provided a place of refuge and respite from the winter to offer you an indoor public park ‘Park Here’. It is 5,000-square-feet of astro turf and trees, wooden tables and benches and ponds..I wonder if you hear the birds chirping though? Upon discovering it, I think they pulled off the concept quite well, and for those of you who have experienced a winter in New York will know that the allure of a warm indoor park will certainly have you skipping through the door! It had people hanging out on their laptops, having a little snooze, and even a picnic! Pretty cute right?

2. Creative Time Public Art Projects NYC

I came across a fascinating arts organisation called Creative Time whilst doing some research on grass roots public art institutions in the New York City.  Creative Time is a not-for-profit organisation delivering public arts projects to the community for over 37 years, thereby being one of the oldest organisers of public art in the city. They have done some groundbreaking work, using local and international artists, collaborating with the communities they work in, always aiming to leave a message or push the boundaries. Going against norms and conventions is the way they see messages and stories are more clearly delivered, ideas that have the potential to stop one in their tracks. I really suggest you check out their work and click onto the websites of the various projects they have worked on, one of my favourite being the one I saw of Jenny Holzer’s light projections onto iconic architecture and buildings around the city. Check out Creative Time

3. Modern Islamic Architecture in Paris

My love and fascination for Islamic architecture and art knows no bounds, to the point where I even got a islamic 10 point geometric star tattooed on my wrist! So you can understand my excitement upon my visit to the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. This building was designed by Jean Nouvel in 1987 and was designed to play a pivotal role in the dissemination of Arabic culture in Western Europe. The building of the Institute is a very modern take on traditional forms of Islamic architecture, with Islamic inspired geometric screens and stars that cover the whole facade of the building, piercing the backdrop to the city . Located on the bank of the Seine, this place not only houses stunning collections of Ottomon and Byzantine art, music and cultural concerts from whirling dervishes to Iranian poets but has breathtaking views of Paris from its rooftop terrace (which is free to access and not many people know about it!). Here are some pics I took..

4. Creative expressions of love in the city of Paris

The bridges in Paris have been slowly taken over by ‘love locks’, with people leaving locks inscribed with the initials of their loved ones fastened onto the bridges, with the key thrown into the Seine to seal their love – how romantic! This first lot of locks started on the Pont de Arts, but the picture I’ve taken here was on the Pont d’Arcole. I just love the way they look all crammed onto the bridge – clearly Paris is the ‘City of Love’ with all these locks all over the place!

5. Inspiration: The Guerilla Art Kit

I found this quote in a book called The Guerilla Art Kit which I bought at theShakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris (if you are in Paris you absolutely must must go here, it is a spellbinding place!). It teaches you how to be a guerilla from how to dress, what supplies to use to directions for specific guerilla projects. This quote conveys how in order for people to feel the message of your art it must ring true. They must see it and think I have always believed this to be true, but I never could put it into words and never thought anyone else felt this way.

6. Urban Agriculture in New York City

Food security is a topic that gets talked a lot about, not just at Village Well but globally in academia and even on my studio project. I’m learning that growing food for our own consumption can go beyond just our backyard veggie patch. The Design Trust for Public Space, Added Value and the Red Hook Community Farm have partnered together to develop strategies to support urban agriculture citywide. The project,  Five Borough Farm, will survey and map New York City’s existing urban agricultural activity; create a shared framework and tools to evaluate and quantify the many benefits of urban agriculture; and develop recommendations to city government about what role they could play to support urban agriculture. Read more about the project here: Five Borough Farm Also, my boyfriend who studies at Columbia was working on this project looking at the potential for urban agriculture in New York City, which was undertaken by the Urban Design Lab, a joint laboratory between The Earth Institute and GSAPP at Columbia University. You can download the report here.

7. Ideas for Cities: Street Activity Stimulation

Wouldn’t this be a great idea?! Cities could mandate street-level space that was open to the public. Every building would dedicate their ground floors to retail or activities that invite citizens in, which would avoid activity vacuums along city streets. This would foster greater opportunity for small businesses through greater availability of retail stores, dining rooms, studios and working space, and community and learning centers. The goal is highly walkable districts with rampant “boredom snuffers” and magnets for happy accidents. Read the ongoing dialogue on Ideas for Cities at GOOD

8. Australian Design Review Feature – Village Well, BKK at Venice Bienalle

Village Well were invited to participate in a submission for the Venice Biennale for Architecture with BKK Architects for 2010. We were lucky to be finalists with our scheme and concept appearing at the Australian pavilion. It was an extremely exciting, inspiring and challenging collaboration. This article  in the Australian Design Review covers our collaboration, with our proposal focusing on Survival Versus Resilience in the planning of Australian cities in 2050. Have a read here: Survival Vs. Resilience

9. Guerilla knitting artist in NYC

I’ve been coming across an artist who has been guerilla knitting entire cars and bicycles and have seen his/her work in a few neighbourhoods across the city….but leaves no signature of his/her work..i’m still trying to find out who it is! In the meantime here is an example of the work I found..its great!

10. Sunny side up in the Netherlands

This image brightened up my day! By Dutch artist Henk Hofstra

11. Monocle Magazine + Venice Biennale 2010

With my discovery of the Monocle store in Greenwich Village which got me very excited, I missed reading our monthly subscription at the office so much that I went onto their online site and spent hours reading and listening to their articles. They had great coverage of the Venice Biennale on Architecture for 2010. I recommend checking it out: Monocle Magazine Venice Biennale 2010 (click to see video)

12. Paris vs New York – a tally of two cities

Well I could probably do one of these of my own once I’m done with my travels!

13. Limelight Market..what a lovely retail retrofit

Strolling down 7th Avenue towards Union Square my eyes turned to this beautiful gothic church with really cool signage. On first impression I thought ok, some trendy graphic designers must have produced the signage and banners for the church to encourage more people to come to services… but upon closer inspection I realised it was an amazing retail conversion called The Limelight Market, a treasure trove of boutique fashion, specialty foods, and other artisan products! There are still some tenancies left in the building, but it seemed to get all the details right, the lighting, finishes, visual merchandising, smells, sounds…all on point. Its an example of a great retrofit of building, with the structure, details and history still intact, but operating in a completely different way…(I also found out that this used to be a nightclub before it became a retail destination so its had many lives!)

14. Can We Design Cities for Happiness?

I had the wonderful opportunity to listen to a talk at Columbia University by Enrique Penalosa, the forward thinking and innovative former Mayor of Bogota, Colombia. The ‘Right to the City’ is in the Colombian constitution, whereby every citizen has the equal right to public space. Quality of life and living is not something that should only be afforded to the wealthy in the developed world, and Enrique gives some insight into this wisdom and knowledge that is having policy makers, planners and urban thinkers around the world re=thinking design of our cities and public spaces.

Can We Design Cities for Happiness?

15. Social Media for Community Engagement

In my lead up to taking a class around ‘Crowd Sourcing’ and the impact social media is having on planning, development and community processes I thought I’d introduce a website similar to in Australia that has been established here in New York. View the short video clip, its a cute and simple way to show the power of social media and community engagement, which could, I believe revolutionise the planning system.

16. Urban Renewal x Art: Steve Powers

17. Guerrilla Pedestrians!

Guerilla actions by citizens in our cities are becoming a worldwide phenomenon with people taking control of their public environments,  making over nature strips to beautify streets, creating artworks and yarn bombing! In Brazil I’ve found that people have gone one step further, where pedestrians, fed up with unsafe streets in their community have started painting the streets with zebra crossings!

Click to view the article at Tree Hugger.

18. Mr.Brainwash Exhibit in Meatpacking District

Whilst wondering around the Meatpacking District I came across this warehouse filled with big, glitzy pieces of stencil and grafitti art which of course, caught my eye…there was no one inside, no door person…so I curiously entered only to find that this was a Mr.Brainwash installation (aka the crazy french guy from Banksy’s doco ‘Exit Through the Giftshop’). The exhibit was colourful, in your face and I loved that you kind of felt you were trespassing going in (but not really).

Here are a few pictures I took:

A giant Mattel Taxi Cab – life size!

19. 19 cities. 20 million people. 21st century

A very informative and eye-opening digital mapping of the future and impact of 19 major urban cities around the world.

20. Designing Cities for People

Whilst on my travels I visited the Centre for Architecture in New York, a place that is home to the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter and the Center for Architecture Foundation, and vibrant non-profit organizations that provide resources to both the public and building industry professionals. The exhibit being shown at the moment was Our Cities Ourselves: The Future of Transportation in Urban Life. It explores the creation of better cities through better transportation and demonstrates what is possible when we design our cities for ourselves. By 2030, sixty percent of the world’s population will live in cities. As cities become increasingly dense, personal automobiles will become less and less feasible transport options. Sustainable transportation will be the key to the health of our cities, our own health, and the health of the environment. In honor of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s (ITDP) 25th anniversary, Our Cities Ourselves envisions sustainable urban futures for ten major global cities: Ahmedabad, Budapest, Buenos Aires, Dar es Salaam, Guangzhou, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Mexico City, New York City and Rio de Janeiro. In each city, ITDP field offices and international architects propose ideal transportation futures grounded in current conditions. The proposals present safe, vibrant streets that promote social and economic equality, privilege mass transit, bicyclists and pedestrians, and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A highly engaging, interactive and inspiring exhibition, I spent at least 2 hours wondering around here on my own!

Some photos of the exhibit:

21.  Restaurants the aim to create and connect community

A fascinating article from Metropolis that profiles restaurants all over America that have a social purpose and agenda…to create and connect community. A must read!

Great Good Places | Metropolis Magazine.

22.  My first trip to the Highline

I made my first visit to The High Line when I arrived in New York, a beautiful urban park built on an elevated 1930s freight rail structure on Manhattan’s West Side. Originally built to remove dangerous freight trains from the city, the High Line delivered milk, meat, produce and raw goods into the Meat Packing district’s warehouses. The last train ran on the High Line in 1980 carrying a trainload of frozen turkeys!

In 1999 a group of community residents fought for the High Line’s preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under the threat of demolition. The Friends of the High Line group was formed and the group’s vision and passion catalysed one of the best examples of urban revitalisation the city has ever seen.

Visiting the park, you instantly see how it attracts all walks of life with families, students, couples, tourists all happily strolling and meandering down the promenade. Dotted along the way are ice cream stands, public art installations, movable seating, shade, sun beds…a perfect compliment to the park. It floats effortlessly above the city, in perfect balance with the harsh built form, and the Hudson River. The High Line is truly a special place for New Yorkers and visitors and is an amazing example of what happens when community has a vision.

I absolutely loved this place, and since being in New York have gone back many many times, showing my friends and family what a wonderful public space and addition to the city it is. It has now set a precedent in the way we look at disused infrastructure and spaces, and the possibilities that can follow if we look at them a bit differently and get the community to take ownership.

Stage 3 of the Highline has recently opened, check it out at

23.  Macro Sea – out of the box real estate developers

I came across Macro Sea after our professor at studio showed us some of their work to give us inspiration for adaptive re-use and upcycling for our studio projects…what we discovered was a real estate developer that does things really differently.  Alongside their commercial projects that cover everything from educational, arts, retail and residential buildings and campuses, they have also developed a series of exploratory interim use projects to transform the urban landscape. Their projects focus on re-imagining everyday objects and surroundings to bring the ‘unexpected, interactive, and visceral experiences’.
Check out some of their cool work:
Dumpster Pools – re-use of dumpsters to cool people off in the hot NYC summer days and nights

24.  Istanbul Delight

Spring break 2011 and it was time to travel somewhere exotic, beautiful and mysterious…ISTANBUL! A city that I have dreamt about travelling to since I was young, captivated by its geography being between two continents, the food, bazaars, spices, tea…everything really. So imagine my surprise wondering down one of the labyrinth of streets and laneways in the Old City, when I had this sense that I had seen this place before….it was so familiar, yet I knew this was the first time I had come to Istanbul. I suddenly realised that the street I was walking on, was photographed by our Founder Gilbert Rochecouste, and used countless times in our various placemaking presentations for its colour and beauty, but I didn’t know that it was taken in Istanbul. I then went on to remember my conversation with Gilbert after he had returned from his world travels a few years back that Istanbul was a place where he said ‘everyone is placemakers’. And boy was he right. Here is a picture I took of this mesmerizing street called Yerebatan Caddesi, in Sultanhamet.
Traders are really the best placemakers:
One Comment Post a comment
  1. Abigail Oke #

    Such a fantastic blog- thank you for sharing this!!!

    February 5, 2013

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