Oct '11 - Oct '11
The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest has gone from media eruption to tourist destination. When I visited Zuccotti Park on Saturday out-of-towners were photographing protesters as if they were zoo animals. I was impressed at how focused the demonstrations are and how they utilize the space of the 3,300 square foot park so effectively. The logistics of it aren't great; people are sleeping on quilts on the paving, eating take-out pizza, and using washrooms at local delis. But the park, a bland space with granite benches and shade trees, is ideal staging. The noisiest, most extravagant, protesters gather along Church Street, catching tourist traffic from the former World Trade Center site one block uptown. Other, quieter, protesters stand at the opposite side, along Broadway, below the giant red Mark di Suvero sculpture, which has taken on revolutionary, constructivist overtones. The south and north sidewalks have become promenades, with visitors lingering to take it all in, and the north street, Liberty Street, has become a service drive, lined with police cars. The park is just the right size. It's large enough to contain the activities and small enough so that it doesn't seem out-of-control. I doubt that designers could have planned it better.
Storefront for Art and Architecture, inspired by the fervor, has launched "Strategies for Public Occupation: Call for Ideas," The way that OWS so naturally and smartly overtook Zuccotti park suggests that no design is necessary here and, perhaps, for other kinds of public happenings too. What's really needed is infrastructure: toilets, drinking water, marked pathways, safety lights and spotlights, and PA equipment. The BMW Guggenheim Lab, a temporary event space that sat along Houston Street this summer, strikes me as a perfect model for an ephemeral, unprogrammed urban space. It's a simple, open steel frame furnished with A/V equipment, video screens and folding chairs. It has no image of its own, and gives itself over easily to all manner of events, including lectures, concerts and movies. The protesters don't need strategies, they need spaces like the Lab, and like the Park.