The largest mural in New York


Recently Alchemy Properties held a mural design competition for two walls of their new mixed-use building in th e Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York. In one of those real estate quirks, this new building, at 800 10th Avenue, has frontage on both 53rd and 54th streets, but it does not occupy the corner. (A single-story garage inhabits the corner parcel.) Thus, the development had two blank walls facing the corner and the stream of traffic along Tenth Avenue, resulting in a prime space for public art. The developer invited proposals from artists, and Corinne Ulmann, a painter and architectural designer (and former grad school studiomate), won.

With bright yellow-orange leaves and ghosted windows, her design, shown in yesterday’s New York Times, mimics the scale of the new development and suggests the nearby park.

It’s a lovely and serene mural, a wonderful way for the new development to give back to the neighborhood—and generates great PR for the developer and the project.

– Meera

Fill-In the Block


Walking back from lunch yesterday, I uncovered a seasonal pocket of retail activity just steps from the heart of Downtown Crossing…that was not Art Fridays. Rather, the Brattle Book Shop – somewhat of an endangered species of bookstore “type” and in operation since 1825 – has initiated a worthy takeover of the adjacent vacant lot. On quiet West Street, office workers on their lunch break browsed books, unable to resist the allure of shelves of hardcovers and piles of paperbacks.  Why is this particular space so compelling? As a temporary urban intervention, the “liner” of books that envelops the lot successfully brings the adjacent party walls down to a more human scale. The wall mural, the hodgepodge of buildings facades, and the requisite fire escape backdrop, transform this outdoor “room” – just steps from the Public Garden – into a delightful urban niche where one can seek refuge from the summertime heat. In spite of thoughtful streetscape planning, sometimes its unplanned urban moments like these which are the best.


– Corey


The Unigrid


As my colleagues work on the Harbor Park Pavilion and its exhibition design with the National Park Service, I was once again struck by the brilliance and versatility of Massimo Vignelli’s design for National Park Service print materials.

In the late 1970s Vignelli developed a “unigrid” for park service publications. This modular system determines everything about the design—from paper size to graphic layout to illustration formats. The grid is driven, at least in part, by the economics of printing. It offers ten basic brochure formats with length-to-width ratios determined by paper sizes that can be cut from one larger sheet of paper. Thus, the park service can order paper in large quantities for maximum discounts, and produce ten different-sized brochures from the same-sized paper stock with great efficiency.

The unigrid sets up an open framework for design. Within the grid, between the black header bar with the strong white font and the black bar at the bottom of the unfolded brochure, text, photos, maps, and illustrations can be organized in a variety of ways. It’s a robust framework that supports a wide range of graphic possibilities.

Economical, flexible, and with a clear visual identity, Vignelli’s unigrid is just plain good design.


See the unigrid in action in this flickr album.
For some of Vignelli’s words of wisdom, download the Vignelli Canon.


Urban Trompe L’oeil



Should one be passing through New Haven – perhaps to catch an exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art – consider walking a short distance down Chapel Street to see some art of an altogether different scale.  Directly opposite the New Haven Green you’ll find sandwiched in an alleyway Square with Four Circles, a 110 foot tall “multi-dimensional” painting by renowned Swiss artist Felice Varini (evidently his first outdoor public artwork in the US).  Cleverly composed to “flatten” urban space, this trompe l’oeil painting stretches down the alleyway, through Temple Plaza, and up Temple Garage (i.e. the “Guggenheim” of parking garages by none other than Paul Rudolph). Visit here to watch a video “walkthrough” and here to reveal how the painting was done. (hint: it involves darkness, large-scale projectors, and an iphone level).  Sponsored by the non-profit group Site Projects, the “painting” along with its indoor companion piece across the Green, will be up through June 2011.

– Corey