Between April 14th and May 6th 2012, the third edition of Stillspotting in Jackson Heights, Queens, NYC.
Stillspotting NYC is a two-year multidisciplinary project organized in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum’s Architecture and Urban Studies department, responding to the question of how residents and visitors alike can escape, find respite and make peace with their space in a “city that never sleeps.” Stillspotting aim is to turn people into tourists by offering maps with places to visit and by encouraging a genuine curiosity and mindfulness of the NYC surroundings. However, the tourists are likely to discover more than what was advertised!
For the third edition of Stillspotting NYC, Solid Objectives design (SO – IL) presented the project Transhistoria, that focuses on the matter of how one can find calm and inner peace in a bustling environment. The question seems especially relevant for a place like Jackson Heights that was designed as an early 20th century solution to the Manhattan’s dense overcrowding. On that time, in a northwest area of Queens in New York City,it was founded a “garden community”, counting 138 languages spoken among its residents, making Jackson Heights one of the most culturally diverse place in the United States. Nowadays, the Jackson Heights neighbourhood is a leader in developing utopian ideals of high-density housing in direct contrast with the traditional, over-crowded and noisy New York apartment buildings. Over the past decades the neighbourhood’s housing stock has risen dramatically, now becoming one of the more densely populated areas of the city.
For Transhistoria project, all Jackson Heights residents, many of whom have roots elsewhere, were asked to develop stories about their “personal transition, voyage and transformation,” reflecting on how they have achieved a sense of home and familiarity in their adopted or native borough.
They were basically asked to answer these questions:How do its residents, who often have roots elsewhere, achieve a sense of home and familiarity in a post-national living situation? And what urged them to leave their old households and countries in the first place?
Official histories on migration tend to stress economic or political motives for relocation without giving much attention to individual and cultural narratives. One important but largely ignored aspect, however, remains the fight for problematic domestic situations. Think of a young woman who leaves to escape her strict mother, a transgender individual who feels underappreciated by town elders or a man who never returns home to his family after stepping out for a pack of cigarettes. These types of everyday stories open up a different enquiry in the search for individual identity whose is away from home.
For the two-hour self-guided walking tour developed between Roosevelt Avenue and Northern Boulevard, SO- IL chose a group of Queens-affiliated artists whose original works of prose and poetry were read by volunteers and discussed by all. The list included renowned poets as Roger Sedarat, Maria Terrone, Chaplain William and Alan Briceland; writersas Erik Baard, Premilla Nadasen, René Georg Vasicek, and Nicole Steinberg; rappers of the group Das Racist, Ashok Kondabolu and Himanshu Suri. The latter is also a community organizer for Seva NY, one of the most dynamic community-based organizations in Queens which mission is to build a sustainable network of community-based members to address the critical needs of the most under-resourced immigrant communities in New York City with a special focus on the South Asian and West Indian enclaves.
The sites selected were gratifyingly diverse and surprising such as the roof of the Jackson Heights Jewish Center, or a quiet living room on the first floor of a residential building next to the Terraza 7 Cafe and even the garden at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church among others. All of these residential, commercial and public spaces were tied together by SO-IL’s elegant and subtle design intervention: a set of blue foam core stools arranged for stillspotters to gather. The furniture did not create or frame its site so much as merely mark it, not only encouraging physical restfulness, but also perceptual alertness to one’s surroundings. In the garden at St. Mark’s, a massive cherry blossom tree offered sanctuary enough from the bustle of the street while shedding thousands of its pale pink petals with every gust of wind. Here, on a carpet of discarded leaves, a volunteer read Maria Terrone’s reflection on the therapeutic and transformative effects of learning to cook Indian food from her neighbour, experimenting with a new set of ingredients tested by her Italian upbringing.
However, the most memorable aspects of this storytelling tour were not spots or stories at all, but the places and experiences in between!
Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu (SO – IL) wasfounded in 2008 by architects Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu. The American architecture firm SO – IL’s project represent an ideas-based practice with a global reach. With a strong sense for detail, as well as the organization of space on a large scale, SO – IL combines philosophies and design aesthetics from Asia – especially Japan and China – with those from Europe. In 2010, SO – IL was selected as the winner of MoMA PS1’s Young Architects Program for its Pole Dance design, which provided a playful yet pleasing aesthetic experience in PS1’s courtyard in Queens. SO – IL designs projects of varying scales, including a master plan for a cultural campus in Seoul; a wedding chapel in Nanjing, China; student housing in Athens; and a sound pavilion for the Get It Louder festival in Beijing.