The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about Public Art

Public Spaces


Add a piano to make your city square sing

Here's a fun way to add vitality to a public space: Outdoor pianos.

In 2009, Denver started adding public pianos along its busy mile-long downtown pedestrian mall. The pianos have become a popular and noticeable part of that city's public realm. 5 years later, they're still there, and people are still playing them.


Photo by voteprime on flickr.

Even if weather or careless use ruins them after one season, upright pianos aren't particularly expensive. It would be completely practical for DC to buy one or two per year and put them in squares or circles around the central city. Roll them out in spring, and pack them back up around Thanksgiving.

The Mosaic District in Fairfax caught onto this idea a few years ago, and it could totally work great in Farragut Square or along the Georgetown waterfront.

A potentially bigger holdup might be getting the National Park Service to allow it.

We first ran this post in 2014, but since the idea is still great, we wanted to share it again!

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Kojo Nnamdi's voice on Metro? Art by non-professional artists? Vote for your favorite MetroGreater ideas!

Last week we announced the MetroGreater finalists and opened voting. Between now and August 26th, when voting closes, we want to tell you more about each finalist idea. Today's featured finalists: Kojo Nnamdi making train announcements and the local (non-professional) artists' work in stations.


Photos by Ted Eytan and steve loya on Flickr, respectively.

Kojo on Metro: Recorded rail announcements by local personalities

More than 100 submissions to MetroGreater focused on improving the announcements on Metrorail. The jury chose an idea to have prominent figures from the Washington region, such as WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi, lend their "voice talent" to create recorded announcements for Metro. Here's the original submission:

Providing a real human voice is vital to providing a friendly and comfortable transit experience. With our new Metro cars, we've gone to automated announcements (which is fine), but lost the real human voice (which leaves the system feeling dull, sterile, and not original); we need to record a great voice that can become known as our region's transit voice. I think it would be great to feature none other than Kojo Nnamdi!"

Ryan W. submitted this idea and notes that even though this idea may seem "whimsical," he thinks it would help Metro be able to "deliver the service we as a region need it to." He also shares that it would be a "huge branding opportunity for the Washington region as whole" whereby tourists and locals alike would come to associate a particular voice with our region.

In Ryan's opinion, Kojo is a unique candidate to record Metro announcements since he has a "recognizable and distinguished voice" and is also distinctly connected to the DC region. But Ryan also shared that Mayor Muriel Bowser or President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama would make excellent candidates if they were willing to lend their voices.

What do you think? Would Kojo's voice announcing stops make your Metro rider better? Vote at MetroGreater.org or share a comment below.

Feature local artists' work in stations

Another finalist idea focused on featuring art in Metro stations. Here is the original submission:

Invite local non-professional artists to submit works of art to be displayed safely in Metro stations for a period of time, say six months, then have new works displayed. Have a group of artists form a panel to choose the art to be displayed.

Jennifer S. envisions an ongoing program that exhibits local artists' works on rotation, changing every six months or so. She recommends that a "Metro panel decide on a uniform frame size for submissions" so all works can be easily displayed and rotated. "Of course the size would have to be large enough to be seen from trains as well as up close", notes Jennifer.

When reviewing this idea, the MetroGreater jury wondered if a small stipend could be offered to each artist who lends their work. Jennifer worried that this would limit the program's ability to be sustained into the future, noting that "the money would eventually be used up and later artists chosen would not receive the stipend." Instead, she suggested that the funds remaining after purchasing and installing the frames could be donated to local public schools to support their arts programs.

Tells us what you think about this idea by voting at MetroGreater.org. Or, share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Do you want Metro to implement one of these ideas? Vote today at MetroGreater.org!

Public Spaces


Five new murals that add life to NoMa and Truxton Circle

New murals are brightening NoMa and Truxton Circle. Here's where you can find them.


Fresh Cut Barber Shop at North Capitol and Bates Street NW. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

One is on North Capitol and Bates St. NW, and another on the corner of Florida Avenue and Q St. NW.


Fiddlehead's Salon at Florida and Q NW.

Another is part 5x5, a DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities initiative to develop public art. It's painted on a retaining wall along First Street. Both its bright primary colors and message, "Home Is Where the Heart Is," make First and N NE, which used to be pretty bland, come alive.


First and N NE.

Two more, which Art Whino and JBG Companies collaborated to commission, help with the job:


First and N NE.

JBG has plans to redevelop each of these the two buildings, but the murals spruce them up in the meantime.


First and N NE. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

DC Public Works supports street and performance art throughout the city as a way of showcasing local artists, and in some cases as a method for preventing unwanted graffiti.

Throughout the region, murals tell stories about their neighborhoods and their history and values. Rather than letting older and unused buildings simply fall into disrepair, recreating and enlivening them with artwork makes them new again.

Arts


San Francisco street lights will animate subway trains below

A public art installation on San Francisco's Market Street will add animated lights following the movement of subway trains running directly below.


Image from Illuminate The Arts.

The project is called "LightRail," and according to its sponsors it will be the world's first "subway-responsive light sculpture."

Two LED strings will stretch above Market Street for two miles through downtown San Francisco. Using real-time arrival data, the strings will visualize movement of BART and Muni trains directly underneath the street.

Sponsors hope LightRail will open in 2015, and will remain in place until at least 2018. If it proves popular, officials may decide to keep it up longer.

Without a doubt, this is one of the coolest public art projects I've ever seen.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Public Spaces


Architects try to spruce up NoMA's underpasses

Projectors could shine interactive art or sign language shapes on the walls of NoMa's underpasses. Large sculptures made of LEDs could give visual interest to the ceilings and walls. Ten teams of architects envisioned ways (some dubious) to illuminate and enliven the tunnels where K, L, and M streets and Florida Avenue cross under the railroad tracks.


Image by Citelum US.

The NoMa Parks Foundation, which is affiliated with the local BID, is conducting a design competition for the underpasses. Now, these are dark and unexciting spaces; while they will still be underpasses, NoMa hope to make them more appealing ones.

If successful, they also could help knit together both sides of the railroad tracks by creating some concrete sense of place adjacent to the urban fabric on either side, instead of just a dead zone. Some of the architects seem to have devised interesting ways of doing that; others perhaps missed the mark.

K Street

K Street is one of the hardest. It has narrow sidewalks flanking four lanes of car traffic. Relatively few pedestrians cross here.

Some of the designers seem to have embraced the car-oriented nature of this underpass and don't really try to create a pleasant pedestrian space, while others think more broadly.


All photos from the NoMa BID created by the respective architect teams.

United Visual Artists proposes linear lines of light that visually extend the street grid through the underpass. It's simple—perhaps too simple.

Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO uses the many columns which hold up the bridge between the lanes of traffic to create a moving zoetrope effect. This seems like a terrible idea as it only works at high speed, making it clearly geared to the driver and not the pedestrian, but at the same time, would distract drivers who need to be watching the road.

Some cities including New York, San Francisco, Mexico City, and Kiev have put images like this in their subway tunnels (sometimes as ads). That seems like a much smarter location since riders aren't operating the train.

CINIMOD + Studio LDVC + TALL designed a series of arcs around each end of the underpass which gradually line up to form a geometric ovoid shape as you approach the underpass. This seems like it would work well at pedestrian scale and speed and give more of a sense of the underpass being something to go to instead of merely through.

L Street

In contrast to K Street, L Street has very wide sidewalks but just two lanes of traffic. This creates far more opportunities to do something with this space. This also is the underpass with the most submissions (five).

A rendering from the NoMa Public Realm Plan showed the area packed with good-looking stock photo people like a rave is going on or something. In reality, this will still basically be a sidewalk between places, but the teams tried to make it a sidewalk you want to go to.

Narduli Studio devised a clever idea: a series of cameras that take photographs of the pedestrians and cyclists walking by, then project silhouettes of them on the wall that gradually fade over time. This would create a continuity between who is here now and who was here before, populating the underpass with the people from the past. When trains rumble overhead, the light pattern will add waves to represent sound.

Future Cities Lab (top above) and Mik Young Kim both created variants on the "make something artistic out of LEDs." Future Cities designed a weaving truss while MYK shaped them into a tree that will change color. The tree idea could give some natural feel to a place that is very utilitarian.

Thurlow Small Architecture + NIO, the people who also suggested the zoetrope, suggest suspending rods overhead that will sway back and forth to make it look like it's raining. I fear making people feel like they're out in the elements in bad weather is not a good way to make an underpass a welcoming space.

Lancaster + Matthew Schreiber's idea is to turn a wide sidewalk into what's effectively a much narrower one by building a big wooden structure with vertical poles that make a gentle arc. It's visually interesting, but makes both the center and side sections vary in width, constraining pedestrian and bicycle flow.

M Street

All three of designs for M Street are based on LED light strips.

Lancaster + Matthew Schreiber have another of their space-eating wooden structures.

Synthesis + Architecture & Moritz Waldemeyer would suspend some long lines of webbing. This also seems to cut down significantly on the space available for walking.

Meanwhile, Mik Young Kim (which proposed the tree of light for L Street) suggests an undulating "energy field" along the ceiling and wall, with sections popping out to form benches.

This one looks interesting, so much so that their rendering shows all of the pedestrians gawking at the ceiling but getting in the way of others. Also, apparently people would take photos of models on bicycles inside the underpass.

Florida Avenue

Citelum US's proposal, called "Luminous Aether," does the most to link the underpasses to the concept of parkland (which is very scarce in NoMa and was part of the impetus for the competition). Projections on the walls would rotate between the concepts of air, water, earth, and fire, each interacting as people walk past.

The proposal by Dulio Passariello + Ray King would project six hands on each wall making the American Sign Language letters for F-L-O-R-I-D-A. A background projection would change color throughout the day as speakers play the music of Duke Ellington and the sounds of a Florida beach.

This, especially the hands, goes the furthest to relate to the actual surrounding community as Florida Avenue connects the Metro station to Gallaudet University. Unfortunately, the Gallaudet community has not been involved in the process thus far, so this might need changes to comply with guidelines about the light and color necessary for deaf persons to see each other sign in the underpass.

Which do you like?

Overall, the CINMOD light circles (K Street), Narduli persistent mural (L Street), Mik Young Kim energy field (M Street), and Passariello sign language mural (Florida Avenue) seem best. I also really like the Citelum "Luminous Aether" projections, and perhaps that could go on one of the other underpasses (like K Street, whose designs aren't the most exciting). It's also worth considering using the Mik Young Kim tree instead of the energy field for M Street if there is room.

It's a little disappointing that so many of the designs focused on LED light strips or projections. While it's perhaps natural that designs for underpasses would be about light, they also could do more to create actual places for people to go.

Update: Tony Goodman, ANC commissioner for the area, wrote in an email:

In general I think that the designs should be brighter and more cheerful, while avoiding new obstructions that block pedestrian and bicyclist flow. For L & M Streets there should be more opportunities for people to sit, linger talk and sign as M Street especially is an increasingly popular meeting place for people in the neighborhood.

This project is entirely within public space and paid for with public money, so it's essential that the community is more involved in the implementation than they have been in this RFP process so far.

What do you think?

Public Spaces


With its new plaza, Tysons begins to feel urban

Metro's Silver Line isn't the only indication the transformation of Tysons Corner is clearly underway. Further undeniable evidence: The Plaza, a popular new urban-style open space at the front door to Tysons Corner Center mall.


All photos by Dan Malouff except where noted.

The Plaza (that's its official name) is on the north side of the mall, near the pedestrian bridge from the Tysons Corner Metro station. Three new high-rises are under construction around the plaza, tightly enclosing the space like a genuine city square.


The Plaza and its surroundings. Original photo by Macerich.

The pedestrian bridge to the Metro station isn't open yet, because the high-rise it connects is still under construction. But when all is said and done, The Plaza will become the main entry point to the mall from the Metro. In a very real sense it will become the center of this emerging urban neighborhood.

Befitting Tysons, The Plaza is a thoroughly contemporary update on the classic city square. There's no marble statue in the middle, no grand fountain like in Dupont Circle. Instead, there are padded couches, small-scale artistic flourishes, and outdoor games.


Couches (left), and sculpted birds (right).


Ping pong (left) and corn hole (right).

The first plaza-fronting retail, a Shake Shack, opened earlier this week. More is coming soon.

One crucial difference between The Plaza and a traditional city square is who owns it. This may masquerade as civic space, but it's clearly private property. Security guards patrol the square, and you can bet homeless people aren't welcome to sleep on benches.

But still, The Plaza is a big step forward for Tysons. It's a genuine gathering place, and people are using it. Even without the Metro connection, plenty of other people were hanging out nearby when I visited last weekend. It's not the kind of place that a mere 20th Century office park would support.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Bicycling


How to make cycletracks public art

As more cities build more protected bike lanes, some are beginning to use them as opportunities for public art. In Seattle, the new Broadway cycletrack includes a section with "art bollards."


Seattle cycletrack. Photo by Gordon Werner on Flickr.

Most cycletracks around the US use flexposts or concrete curbs to separate the bike lane from car traffic. A few use other methods like parking stops or zebras, but there are better-looking options available.

In addition to Seattle's art bollards, a growing number of cities use landscaped barriers.


Vancouver cycletrack. Photo by Paul Kreuger on Flickr.

These are great ideas. As cycletrack networks continue to expand, cities around the country can look for opportunities to make their bike lanes more beautiful.

But that being said, beautification adds time and expense to construction, and most cyclists would likely rank having more usable cycletracks sooner as a higher priority than art or landscaping.

So art is great, but there's definitely a place for easy, cheap flexposts.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC