Spirit of the City

During NYCxDesign, the site-specific installation by London firm United Visual Artists (UVA) opened to the public on 18 May in the Special Projects Gallery in A/D/O, Mini's creative hub in Brooklyn, NY. It will be open until 2 September

Located in a former warehouse on the corner of Norman Avenue and Wythe Avenue in Greenpoint, A/D/O is a design center recently founded by MINI as a space for innovation and corporate research and a place open to designers of different disciplines and to the public. Redeveloped based on a design by nArchitects and completed in late 2016, the center encompasses over 23,000 square meters in addition to the work spaces, a fabrication lab, rooms for events and exhibitions, a store and the Norman restaurant. The external courtyard, with its almost rough brick walls, is currently a neutral context for the ‘collaborative’ installation created by UVA.

In line with the mission of the center – to explore future urban design scenarios – Spirit of the Place is an experiment that aims to probe the physical and emotional reactions experienced by individuals when they ‘navigate’ through unknown urban areas. Here, navigation takes place between a series of shiny, mirrored and gilded 2.74 meter-high columns that rotate with different rhythms according to the phases of the day and night. The composition’s dynamism, “seemingly organic behaviour” poetically inspired by the incessant movement of the metropolis, is generated by the continuous rotation of the columns and by the movements of light, shadow and reverberation: “a metaphor for the underground forces that keep the cities in continuous transformation.” The different pre-programmed rotating patterns that alternate over 24 hours correspond to different urban rhythms, rest, dynamism and turbulence to represent levels of human activity in the day defined according to diagrams about energy consumption and traffic flows.

“But this is not a data visualization project,” Matt Clark, UVA’s founder, stresses. “We simply want to create a framework that provides a rhythm that is expressed in the installation itself.” “It’s not so much inspired by data itself, but by the collective human activity and how this suggests a much larger living organism,” the city and the inhabitants that react to it. The project achieves this in an emotional, visceral way, as demonstrated by the visitors who ‘browse’ the installation.