While the vitality and stimulation of the urban environment can be pleasant, those living in or visiting densely populated areas, such as New York, can have wildly different experiences. The ever-present cacophony of traffic, construction, and commerce; the struggle for mental and physical space; and the anxious need for constant communication in person or via technology are relentless assaults on the senses. One wonders how locals and visitors can escape, find respite, and make peace with their space in this “city that never sleeps.”
The Guggenheim Museum responded with stillspotting nyc, a two-year multidisciplinary project that took the museum’s Architecture and Urban Studies programming out into the streets of the city’s five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. Every three to five months between June 2011 and October 2012, “stillspots” were identified, created, or transformed by architects, artists, designers, composers, and philosophers into public tours, events, or installations.
In conjunction with the projects organized around the city, the Spatial Information Design Lab (SIDL) at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University was commissioned to develop a mapping study on silence and noise in New York City. The interactive map developed by SIDL presents actual noise complaints generated by New York residents when calling 311, the city’s phone number for government information and non-emergency services. Reading the complaints offers insights into the city’s noise, and the contrasts between private and social space and between residential and commercial necessities.
In addition, SIDL challenged graduate students from the Architecture, Urban Design, and Urban Planning programs at Columbia University to investigate new concepts of stillness in a fast-moving city. Drawing from a series of seminars with speakers from various backgrounds, student work in the second half of the spring 2011 semester required inventing strategies for collecting data about silence and noise, and visualizing this data into concepts. As a result, the work questioned and redefined conventional ideas about noise, information, the city, and imagery.
A second visual study was developed with students in the MFA program in the Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Arts who are creating video studies of the visual, aural, and sociological ecology of the urban landscape. Together, these works weave an unexpected and cross-disciplinary web of tranquility throughout the city.
Stillspotting nyc is organized by David van der Leer, Assistant Curator, Architecture and Urban Studies with Sarah Malaika, Stillspotting Project Associate, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Support for stillspotting nyc is provided by the Rockefeller Foundation NYC Opportunities Fund and a MetLife Foundation Museum and Community Connections grant.
This project is also supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Leadership Committee for stillspotting nyc, co-chaired by Franklin Campbell and Pamela Samuels, is gratefully acknowledged for its support.