To a Great City by Arvo Pärt and Snøhetta

stillspotting nyc

September 15–18 and 22–25, 2011

For the second edition of stillspotting nyc, composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935, Paide, Estonia) and the New York City and Oslo-based architectural firm Snøhetta collaborate on a series of stillspots around Lower Manhattan that explore the special relationship between space and sound. Pärt’s concept of tintinnabuli (“little bells” in Latin), which forms the basis of most of his work, was born from a deeply rooted desire for a reduced realm of sound that could not be measured, as it were, in kilometers or even meters but only in millimeters. In our busy everyday lives in cities such as New York, we often don’t realize how our ears continually need time to adjust to strong differences in the sounds that surround us—just as the pupils of the eyes only gradually accommodate to the change from light to dark. Pärt believes that our mind and senses do register these differences unconsciously. Oftentimes the mysterious phenomenon of sensory adaptation is best observed through reduction rather than growing complexity. Reduction certainly doesn’t mean simplification, but it is the way—at least in an ideal scenario—to the most intense awareness of the essence of stimuli.

For To a Great City, the architects have selected—and subtly altered by the placement of large-scale weather balloons—indoor and outdoor spaces that embody the concept of a central musical tone and extend the perception of sound into the realm of space. The spherical balloons have a unifying and holistic character and simultaneously create and ignore space: something that can also be said of Pärt’s music.

stillspotting nyc: manhattan

Spatial installation by Snøhetta, music by Arvo Pärt. Installation view: To a Great City at 7 World Trade Center, September 15–18 and 22–25, 2011. © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. Photo: Kristopher McKay

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stillspotting nyc: manhattan

Spatial installation by Snøhetta, music by Arvo Pärt. Installation view: To a Great City at the Woolworth Building, September 15–18 and 22–25, 2011. © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. Photo: Kristopher McKay

stillspotting nyc: manhattan

Spatial installation by Snøhetta, music by Arvo Pärt. Installation view: To a Great City at the labyrinth at the Battery, September 15–18 and 22–25, 2011. © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. Photo: Kristopher McKay

stillspotting nyc: manhattan

Spatial installation by Snøhetta, music by Arvo Pärt. Installation view: To a Great City at the magazine at Fort Jay, Governors Island National Monument, September 15–18 and 22–25, 2011. © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. Photo: Kristopher McKay

stillspotting nyc: manhattan

Spatial installation by Snøhetta, music by Arvo Pärt. Installation view: To a Great City at the magazine at Fort Jay, Governors Island National Monument, September 15–18 and 22–25, 2011. © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York. Photo: Kristopher McKay

The staging of five recorded works by Pärt gradually transports visitors from the hustle and bustle of the streetscape to an elevated urban experience that makes them newly aware of their sense of hearing. Visitors can experience this confluence of music and architecture at five separate locations downtown that quietly celebrate the city, ten years after the September 11 attacks. Traveling through sites along the periphery of Ground Zero, participants encounter a green labyrinth created by the Battery Conservancy, reflect in an underground chamber at Governors Island National Monument, and enter otherwise inaccessible spaces in landmark skyscrapers. The stillness and seclusion of these spaces heightens awareness and recalibrates the senses. Over the course of a day, participants may visit each space multiple times at their leisure to understand how their perception changes based on circumstances such as time, stress, appetite, and sleep. Listeners become increasingly sensitized as they are drawn in and ideally are transformed to a focused and tranquil state.

The Guggenheim Museum acknowledges these community partners and collaborators for their special support on the Manhattan edition of stillspotting nyc:

The Battery Conservancy
Capalino + Company
Mayor’s Office of Citywide Coordination
National Park Service, Governors Island
Silverstein Properties
The Trust for Governors Island
The Witkoff Group

Tickets and Directions

Tours for To a Great City run from Thursdays to Sundays, September 15–18 and 22–25, 2011. Hours of operation are 11 am–7 pm, with the last ticket pick-up at 4 pm.

A ticket allows for access to each of the locations in the tour through Lower Manhattan. The starting point of To a Great City is at the small gallery space of the Castle Clinton National Monument located inside Battery Park (between Battery Place and State Street). Here one will receive a map and directions to each of the sites around the area, as well as a wristband to gain entry into the spaces. Without a wristband, one will not be able to visit the other sites. A full self-guided tour along each of the sites takes up to three hours, but one can pick and choose sites at his or her leisure and shorten the tour if needed.

Castle Clinton National Monument is located at 17 Battery Place, New York, NY 10005-1996.
Subway: 4/5 to Bowling Green, 1 to South Ferry, or N/R to Whitehall Street

Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for members. Discounted rates are available for groups of ten or more. Advance registration is strongly recommended. Depending on availability, a limited number of tickets may also be purchased at Castle Clinton by credit card only.

Buy tickets

Arvo Pärt

The composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935, Paide, Estonia) studied with Heino Eller in Tallinn before starting work as a sound engineer for the Estonian Radio. He first gained recognition in the West in the 1960s with pieces such as Perpetuum Mobile and Nekrolog, best described as collage pieces, in which classical and modern music are combined. After the release of Credo in 1968, often considered his most extreme collage piece, Pärt looked for better ways to express himself through his music. For eight years, he quietly studied classical vocal polyphony and Gregorian chant at the Notre Dame school, which led him to create his signature compositional principle—tintinnabuli (“little bells” in Latin)—that sharply contrasts much of contemporary and classical music. While composers’ works often grow increasingly complex as their careers progress, Pärt’s music over the past few decades has been a search for the absolute essential, often employing an extreme reduction of sound. Fratres (1977) and Litani (1990) are among his most well-known works that have been performed around the world. Since the early 1980s, Pärt has resided in Berlin.


Snøhetta is a design firm that specializes in architecture, landscapes, and interiors. The firm was created in 1989 in Oslo when its founding members won the competition to design the Alexandria Library in Egypt. The firm currently designs out of New York City and Oslo. The collaborative and multicultural nature of the organization has allowed it to work in a wide range of areas in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Snøhetta has conceived a number of prominent cultural buildings, including the King Abdulaziz Center for Culture in Saudi Arabia; the James B. Hunt Jr. Library in Raleigh, North Carolina; the Petter Dass Museum in Norway; the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech; the Queen’s University Performing Arts Centre in Ontario; the Ryerson Student Learning Centre in Toronto; the Wolfe Center for the Arts in Ohio; and the Museum of Environmental Sciences in Guadalajara, Mexico. Snøhetta has shown a keen understanding of sound and space through its design of the Oslo Opera House as well as smaller projects, such as the Kongsberg Jazz Festival Pavilion in Tubaloon, Norway. Currently, Snøhetta is working on its commission to design the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York.


stillspotting nyc PDF

For Kids

Download the stillspotting nyc for Kids PDFLiving in a big city can be fun. There’s so much going on—lots of people, traffic, and things to do. But where can you go to get a break from all the activity? The Guggenheim Museum’s project stillspotting nyc has asked artists and architects to answer that question and to create “spots” for us to enjoy “stillness.”

In 2011 and 2012, stillspotting projects took place across New York. To get you thinking about stillspotting, try this activity.

Manhattan Family Activity Guide (PDF)

Top of page: Snøhetta. Concept sketch for To a Great City, 2011. Digital photograph with handwriting. © Snøhetta 2011

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