Times Square Alliance, Design Trust for Public Space
Photo Credits: Keith Sirchio
Heartwalk, is an installation that incorporates hundreds of weathered boardwalk boards salvaged from communities around the Tri-State area effected by Hurricane Sandy. Heartwalk begins as two ribbons of wooden planks that fluidly lift from the ground to form a heart shaped enclosure in the middle of Times Square. The slatted construction, illuminated from within, provides varied views of the interior as visitors move around the perimeter of the installation. A kind of outdoor room, visitors can enter the installation itself and literally stand in the heart of the world’s greatest city.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Over the last five years, the Times Square Alliance has invited architecture and design firms to submit proposals for a romantic public art installation celebrating Valentine’s Day in Times Square. We were faced with the challenge of designing something that functioned both on the level of the brief (Valentine’s Day) as well as a more serious reflection on the collective experience of Hurricane Sandy. We wanted to create a project that worked on multiple levels and spoke to the broad and diverse audience that passes through Times Square each day.
Heartwalk also became a kind of impromptu photo booth as visitors from all over the city, nation and world took photos with their loved ones within the installation. In order to document this phenomenon, we set up a crowd sourced photo aggregator where visitor’s photos would automatically be uploaded into a gallery. This can be viewed here: www.heartwalktsq.com.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
Previous winning designs for the Valentine Heart Contest have been more sculptural than architectural. In contrast to this, we were interested in creating a room within the city—a public space that was simultaneously interior and exterior. Consequently, this installation wraps around the visitors, providing a moment of pause amidst the country's most public space.
After considering the project, our minds jumped immediately to Hurricane Sandy, which had affected all New Yorkers and was perhaps more than anything else in recent memory a truly collective experience. We wanted to make a project that not only celebrated the romantic love normally associated with Valentine’s Day, but also to the love that binds people together in trying times. Taking inspiration from the collective experience of Sandy, Heartwalk is a reflection on the things that bind us together, ephemeral and permanent. Whether it was the radically reconfigured landscapes, the compromised infrastructural networks, or the temporary solutions that emerged in the days and weeks that followed the storm, Hurricane Sandy confronted all New Yorkers and New Jerseyans by transforming the familiar. For the construction of Heartwalk, we ultimately used boardwalk boards salvaged during Sandy’s aftermath—from the Rockaways, Queens, New York; Long Beach, New York; Sea Girt, New Jersey; and Atlantic City, New Jersey.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
After we had decided to reclaim boards damaged by Sandy, we set about trying to get approval from local officials and communities. The boardwalks are integral to the identities of many of these affected waterfront neighborhoods and repurposing the material so soon after the event was a delicate endeavor. This process necessitated navigating through a wide range of civic and regional agencies. We were delighted and encouraged by the generosity of the communities that donated material for Heartwalk.
The Situ Studio team worked through many challenges, most centering on the quality of the wood that would be mounted in public and likely touched by thousands of people. Many of the pieces of salvaged lumber were waterlogged or splintered. Others had rusty nails and hardware. After salvaging the planks and taking them back to our studio in DUMBO, our team had to clean the boards, remove hardware and rough edges before stacking them to dry. Once they were dried, we planed the boards down, revealing the beautiful, rosy quality of the Ipe wood. After discovering the natural beauty of the wood, hidden beneath the long-weather surface of the planks, we began to experiment with lighting schemes. We wanted the heart to glow red but also wanted to keep visible the natural beauty of the boardwalk wood. The final iteration of the project illuminates outward, while the visitor can stand on the inside of the heart and experience these natural qualities of the boardwalk planks, exposing their inner beauty.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Nominally, Heartwalk is a project about Valentine’s Day, but we transformed the brief and the scope of the project into something about the bonds of community and collective experience. Heartwalk also provided an opportunity to reflect on the aftermath of the storm and an acknowledgment to those communities that weren't necessarily helped quickly enough. The project is a site to discuss what we experienced together and what we could do to be better prepared next time.
Now that Heartwalk has moved to DUMBO, its resonance as a memorial to the effects of Hurricane Sandy is heightened. Dissociated from its origins as a Valentine heart design, Heartwalk now stands solely as a testament to the persistence and strength of residents and businesses affected by Sandy. DUMBO, Brooklyn is one of the New York neighborhoods most affected by the hurricane, and, months later, businesses are still struggling to get back on their feet. Since Sandy, we've closely watched our community rebuild and hope the installation will complement the spirited recovery.
In the coming months we hope that Heartwalk will also travel to the Rockaways and Atlantic City where much of the material used in its construction originated.
A piece of intervention that breaks the cliché of a “heart” that is very interesting and purposeful, It is shocking; it allows for audience interaction and eventually goes with them in a photograph. – Mauricio Lara
Incredible installation that is easily achieved in the memory of those who visit. I found the construction system of wood structure interesting. – Sebastián Lara
It is one of the few hearts I’ve seen that are not cheesy and I like it–it is very well done. – Carla Fernandez
I loved the way that the project retakes the destroyed boardwalk wood and as a link between the caos and a symbol of union and hope. – Andres Mier y Teran