Thursday, November 20, 2008

Public Space Project - An instruction set for strangers

An interactive installation at the Grand Ferry Park in Brooklyn that
- provided kids with a play set,
- sparked curiosity about the park’s history and
- promoted interaction between visitors

our aim was to incorporate the sound of fog horns to draw attention to the historical significance of the space that used to be Ferry Station. Also the piece had to be visually appealing and easily understood by children and adults both.



1) Subway station at 8th ave and 14th street, sketch plan of space-

2) Sheep's meadow in Central park

3) Grand Street Ferry Park, Brooklyn.

park location:


• It is named for the 19th century Grand Street Ferry, which once carried farm goods and passengers across the East River to Manhattan.
• In 1802, Richard Woodhull, began a ferry service from today's Metropolitan Avenue to Corlear's Hook across the East River.
• He purchased 13 acres of land surrounding the ferry and named the area Williamsburgh around 1810.
• During the mid-1800s, wealthy professionals frequented the private clubs, beer gardens, and resorts that inhabited the neighborhood, while companies like Pfizer Pharmaceutical and the Havermeyers & Elder Sugar Refineries (now Domino Sugar) established themselves here along the water.
• The opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903 provided an easy route for the city’s newest Eastern European immigrants leading eventually to a decrease in use of the ferries
• The Grand Street Ferry ceased operations in 1918.
• The abandoned landing became one of the few stretches of Williamsburg shoreline accessible to the public
• In 1974, the Parks Council, an advocacy group, created an unofficial park in the space using recycled materials. It was known as the Grand Street Park
• Eventually the land was acquired by NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation to assure that it would remain a park and that it had proper funding
• Grand St. Park officially opened on July 9, 1998.

• The design incorporates elements from the site’s history - A red brick smokestack rising above a circular pattern of cobblestones was part of a molasses plant that Pfizer Pharmaceuticals used in the early 20th century for work that led, eventually, to the large-scale production of penicillin.
• The cobblestones were salvaged from the section of Grand Street where the park was constructed.
• Plants used in the landscaping are are Shore pines, Thornless honey locusts and White ash to provide shade and greenery
• The park has benches, and boulders at the water's edge to sit on.
• A flagpole with yardarm
• A north compass rosette.


We found different categories of people visiting the park :
1) viewers
2) wanderers
3) readers
4) dog people
5) artists : painters, muscicians and photographers
6) teenagers, couples and families

Sounds observed were:
- People talking - in all various languages and accents
- Children blabbering in no clear language
- Sound of water – regular, soft, constant, comforting
- Occasional boat is spotted on the river. speed boat and sail boat.

Conclusions drawn:
- Readers and dog people seem less likely to participate in park things
- Children would like some activity as the view is not enough for them and they start making up their own games like throwing stones in the water-
- Teenagers might be more open to be involved in something
- Even though there was no obvious activity installed people created their own activities within the space without anything sophisticated

- Create a Plaything for our audience: children
- Historical significance with reference to the space being a Ferry Station
- Sounds of fog horns as a reminder of old sounds
- Visually appealing, to attract park visitors


precdents and research :

work by artist: Hisako Kroiden Yamakawa, involving installation and sound.
installations that children interact with.

Set Up:
1. Cardboard Cone 12” in length and 8” in diameter, with small speaker connected to a shuffle .
2. Aim to test size, shape, sound levels and placement of the fog horn to spark curiosity
3. Observe how children and public respond to it.

- Sound was too soft
- The object was too small to be noticed.
- Placement was not significant to interaction
- The shape of the object did not amplify the sound, was not visually appealing.
- Children showed no interest


precedents : playsets made for children that have a story and allow for them to physically climb into. Also looked at how fog horns look, what projects have been made involving boat installations.

Set up:
a boat structure using PVC pipes, carboard, wooden dowels and rope. Use speakers within hornlike structures to play sound.

) Speakers too soft must compete with
– musicians
– ice cream man’s horn
– sound of factory
– sound of water & wind
– helicopters

2) Construction too complicated and hard to get the structure up and sturdy for children
3) Interaction and play become secondary to structure itself
4) Historical reference and play can be incorporated in a simpler way, that is more appealing to kids

precedents and process:

Set up:
- Miniature skylines of Brooklyn and Manhattan made out of Foam core
- 2 plastic tubs with water
- Several colored and brown paper boats
- Two horn like structures constructed from PVC pipes and lampshades.
- Sound speakers placed inside horns, with interactive button – sounds the horn on pressing
- Chalk writing on the asphalt that leads up to the installation – creating a path to our piece and also informing the visitors in short about the history.

People's reactions:

- The chalk writing helped lead people up to our installation and it sparked the initial interest in history
- people were able to understand the skylines and set up easily
- children and adults both played with the boats and sound
- parent was explaining the kids the project, the history and the reason for the horn sounds
- one group of strangers got into a discussion about the park, bridge and when and how people used to commute, when it stopped etc.
- Visitors appreciated our project and found it interesting and complemented the artwork

- the intended interactivity and play was successful
- we took over an hour to set up. Next time we would account for that time
- Given the weather has become chilly there were fewer kids out than prior observations
- We had some problems getting water – next time may have to buy some
- Set up looked a little fragile and we had to assure kids that it was ok to play with
- More boats stuck with double tape to the ground would have been nice too

- We think this project could take on a larger role and even become a permanent installation in the park as it was succesfull in many ways. In order for it to be permanent it would have to be made out of cement or clay and the materials would have to be durable. The boats could be possibly made out of a light wood.

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