OHNY: 7 World Trade Center

October 4, 2008

Since it opened in 2006, the lights of 7 World Trade Center have been one of its most remarkable features. Glowing beacons in the night, they bathe the surrounding area in dramatic tones of blue, white and red.

Tonight, as part of Open House New York Weekend, Michael Hennes, the designer who worked on the lighting project, took visitors around the building and into the lobby. He displayed some rejected sketches, explained the rationale behind the design, and showed how and why the lights work as they do (including some malfunctions that have occurred).

It was an (ahem) illuminating experience. I’ve walked by these lights dozens of times, and I’ll never view them the same way again.

Illumination of 7 WTC
250 Greenwich St, Barclay St, New York
Sat:7:30 pm tour with lighting designer.
building date: 2006
architect: Skidmore, Owings and Merrill

Michael Hennes of Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design will talk about the color-changing lighting within the lobby ceiling, exterior podium screen wall and 80-foot-height parapet changes from the white light of day to a vivid blue at night, while an interactive motion detection system triggers a deeper blue stripe of light that “follows” pedestrians as they walk along the sidewalk.

Everything around the building is bathed in blue light

This Jeff Koons sculpture is bright red; the lights make it appear violet

Side view from Barclay Street

In the lobby, Hennes has the lights adjusted

The crowd listens to Hennes

The building was constructed by Silverstein Properties

Animated Jenny Holzer art installation in the lobby

The white lights come up

Red lights flood the lobby

Flowers on the desk turn red

Blue lights start to come back

Looking at the elevator banks

Elevators are controlled by the user’s ID cards

Frosted glass interior of elevator car

Unmarked doorway in the corridor

Open House New York Weekend
Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design
Jenny Holzer
Metropolis Magazine: Ground Zero’s Saving Grace

OHNY: Radio City Music Hall

October 4, 2008

Created by oil mogul John D. Rockefeller in 1929, Rockefeller Center is an enormous complex of office buildings, shops, theaters, cafes, restaurants, recreation facilities, attractions and underground passageways. It spans a gigantic space in the heart of midtown, stretching east to west from 5th Avenue to 7th Avenue and north to south from 50th Street down to 47th. Almost 300,000 people work in or visit this Art Deco masterpiece every day, many of them heading straight to Radio City Music Hall, the city’s largest and most notable theater.

In 1999, to mark its 70th birthday, Radio City Music Hall underwent an enormous restoration effort aimed at updating the infrastructure and returning the structure to its past glory. The project was led by architect Hugh Hardy, who, as part of Open House New York Weekend, led visitors through the refurbished space and described how he made it sparkle again.

The scope of work was massive and the budget, originally estimated at $25,000,000, eventually topped $70,000,000. Removing seven decades of smoke and grime and repairing wear and tear was just the beginning. Some of the most demanding aspects of the project involved undoing the damage done by inept restorers and un-doing misguided attempts to “modernize” the theater.

During the project, hundreds of workmen and artisans swarmed over the building and stripped away the varnish and dirt that obscured dozens of murals, reupholstered furniture, re-silvered mirrors, installed state of the art lighting, video and audio systems, replaced damaged plasterwork, installed acres of new, custom designed carpets and hung specially woven silk curtains.

Hardy escorted the OHNY visitors upstairs and down: to a private booth high above the theater (“Please, no photos of the stage!,” he ordered), into the men’s and women’s restrooms, across the mezzanine and through the lobby, past the bar and around the sculptures until Radio City employees chased us from the premises so that they could open the doors for the next performance. The show must go on!

The view from the street

Plaque of the Rockettes on the facade


The carpet features 12 musical instruments

A bar in the lobby

Stuart Davis mural in men’s room

In the men’s room
A cathedral of urinals

Where the men go

Inside the ladies’ room

The mural is called The History of Cosmetics

Hugh Hardy and associate lead visitors in ladies’ room

Sinks in ladies’ room

Visitors in a rest room

Crouching Panther by Henry Billings, a men’s room mural

Untitled ladies’ room mural by Yasuo Kuniyoshi (repainted by Yohnnes Aynalem)

Gazing down at balcony bar

Statue in an upstairs corridor

Dressing tables inside a ladies’ room

View from balcony

Another lobby view

Hugh Hardy in Radio City Music Hall

Open House New York Weekend
Radio City Music Hall
NY Times: Piece by Piece, a Faded Icon Regains Its Art Deco Glow
Hugh Hardy

OHNY: Brooklyn Lyceum

October 4, 2008

Today, this structure, which is almost entirely hidden by scaffolding, contains an enterprise known as the Brooklyn Lyceum. Located at the corner of 4th and President Streets, it offers patrons an unusual mixture of dining and entertainment, including a small cafe with Internet access, live music, dance and theater performances, open-mike nights, film screenings and “an occasional restaurant.”

But once upon a time, this building was New York City Public Bathhouse #7. When the bathhouse opened in 1908, many homes in the city lacked adequate indoor plumbing. Back then, residents of an entire tenement building would share a single backyard outhouse, mothers bathed their babies in washtubs, and children squatted in filthy, flooded gutters to cool off during the sweltering summer months. Vermin and disease, including cholera and typhoid epidemics, ravaged the city’s impoverished neighborhoods.

New York’s municipal bathhouses were part of a public health effort to improve conditions for the poor, and provided the city’s most crowded quarters with much-needed sanitary facilities. The first such structure, the Baruch Bathhouse, opened on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1901. As they went up, the bathhouses became larger and more elaborate, some of them modeled on ancient Roman baths.

This building, #7, designed by Raymond F. Almirall, was the largest and the last bathhouse constructed. For three decades, it gave the 150,000 residents of this area, then known as South Brooklyn’s “Little Italy,” access to extensive, sparkling-clean bathing and dressing facilites, two gyms and a swimming pool. The city finally closed the bathhouse in 1937.

After a renovation effort during which the swimming pool was filled in and half the showers eliminated, the bathhouse reopened in 1942 as a city-run gymnasium. Closed once again in the early seventies, it was sold to a local businessman who used it as a warehouse for his nearby transmission repair business.

When he moved his business away, the building went through several more owners, none of whom used it. The former bathhouse stood unused and unmaintained for decades. Leaks were unrepaired, broken window panes unreplaced, holes opened in the roof and stonework chipped off. Eventually, the empty structure was vandalized and stripped of all of the original decorative elements. Even the tiles, pipes, water fountains and plasterwork were carried off or destroyed while the building crumbled.

In the late 1980s, the bathhouse reverted to city ownership and a local community group, which leased it for $1.00 a year, briefly used it as a recreation center before it closed again. By the early 1990s, the bathhouse was considered a neighborhood blight, and there were cries for it to be demolished. Instead, in 1994, the city held an auction where it was purchased by Eric Richmond, who had long wished for a theater space of his own.

Today, as part of Open House New York, Richmond greeted visitors, explained the history of the building and escorted them on a short tour of the space. He explained that not only are the original decorative elements gone, the city lost the original drawings and he has been unable to locate any photographs of the original interior. As visitors gazed at the bare brick walls and looked at the dance troupe rehearsing in the basement, music boomed from above, where the top floor had been rented out for a bar mitzvah party.

A bar mitzvah in a bathhouse? Only in Brooklyn.

The view from the street

One of the last original elements: the name

The doorway

Inside the cafe

View from cafe to basement theater

Basement performance space

Basement restroom

A peek at the bar mitzvah

The owner

Brooklyn Lyceum
All About Jazz: Brooklyn Lyceum
The Brooklyn Paper: Lyceum Site Under Construction
Forgotten NY: A Lost Opportunity
NYC: Asser Levy Recreation Center
The Villager: Don’t Let LaGuardia Bathhouse Go Down the Drain

OHNY: Tom Otterness’s Studio

October 4, 2008

Once again, the organization known as Open House New York has planned a weekend-long celebration of the city’s architectural wonders. Places that are normally off-limits (or at least, very difficult for most people to enter) throw open their doors and allow curious visitors inside.

This is the sixth year of Open House New York Weekend, and each year the number of people and places participating grows. While many sites allow visitors to wander in and out, quite a few require advance reservations. Spaces are few and they fill up quickly, so I considered myself extremely fortunate to nab a spot on the visit to Tom Otterness’s studio.

It would be fair to call Tom Otterness New York’s favorite sculptor. While his name might not be familiar, his work is displayed in public and private spaces around the city. Depending on your point of view, you might consider them whimsical or political, witty or simplistic.

In Manhattan, many of his cartoon-like figures, particularly those in the 14th Street subway station, have been embraced and fondled by so many admirers that their dull finish has become a polished gleam. They also scamper around the Hilton Hotel in Times Square, public schools and parks in Manhattan and a children’s hospital in the Bronx. In Brooklyn, his depiction of an alligator escaping from a sewer is a centerpiece of the MetroTech business complex.

Today, he began greeting visitors to his cavernous Brooklyn studio shortly after 10:00 a.m. The artist showed works in progress, projects still in the planning stages, commissions that were cancelled and completed sculptures. He fielded questions, explained his creative process from initial clay model to finished bronze, sold miniatures and posters of his work, signed autographs and posed for photos with admirers.

Works at different stages

Plaster caked clamps on a studio wall

Sketches and model

Boy inspecting statue

A corner is filled with work by friends, this by John Ahearn

Tom Otterness speaks to OHNY participants

Rendering of a public project

Drawings and model for playground

Castings in progress

Vistor and plaster cast

Model of the balloon he created for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Small figures and pennies are recurring themes

Otterness’s Frog and Bee at NYC’s Public School 234

Otterness’s alligator coming out of a sewer at Brooklyn MetroTech

Open House New York
Tom Otterness

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