Melissa Hope Matlins

Bed-Stuy Meadow Project

Photo credit: Kate Glicksberg via  21st Century Plowshare

I braved the rain on Saturday in support of a beautiful and simple vision – to blanket the vacant lots of New York City’s Bed Stuy neighborhood with native wildflowers. The project’s creators, 21st Century Plowshare, supplied us volunteers with nifty bags filled with a seed/sand mixture and “seed bombs” for throwing over fences (shown here in Kate Glicksberg‘s great photo). I am hoping that April showers will work their magic and we will see some sprouts soon. More neighborhood plantings are in the works. And testament to the power of the idea – New York Times coverage here.

Image: Kate Glicksberg via 21st Century Plowshare


Lieb House, Boat?
March 13, 2009, 3:29 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, New York City | Tags: ,

I think that most architects would argue that what distinguishes their work from art is a consideration of “context.” Architects like that word – context – and it can be used to describe everything from a skyscraper to a schoolchild. When there is a disjunction between a building and its context, it is often because the neighborhood changes around it, or the building is adapted to another use or program. But every so often a disjunction occurs when a building is actually removed from its context, and transported via barge up the East River perhaps.


The Lieb House, designed by Pritzker Prize winner Robert Venturi of Venturi Scott Brown Associates, is a notable 1,500 square foot beach house that lived on a large lot in New Jersey – until recently. To save the structure from demolition, the house was purchased by a couple who happen to own another Venturi-designed house. The Lieb House will be joining their Kalpakjian House in Glen Cove, Long Island.

More pictures here

Empire State Building Tickled Pink
February 20, 2009, 7:50 pm
Filed under: Architecture, New York City

The canyon-like streets between New York City’s tall towers sometimes create strange and wonderful natural lighting effects. For example, there are photos all over the web of Manhattanhenge, an evening every summer when the sun aligns perfectly with Manhattan’s east-west streets.

I catch a sliver of the Empire State Building out of my window at work, and towards sunset last night the low winter sun lit up the building like a giant pink floodlight for about five minutes.


Fine Day for a Cruise
January 15, 2009, 8:16 pm
Filed under: Design, New York City, Urbanism


I thought I was crazy for trying to bike through the winter, but then Stephan has to go and one-up us all by taking a leisurely paddle down the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn just as temperatures were dropping into the teens yesterday. Nice looking dory. For more information on this handmade boat check out The Free Seas/Mare Liberum.

Image via Gowanus Lounge

Hard Times for Peace
December 3, 2008, 12:11 am
Filed under: Architecture, New York City, Urbanism


Architecture can be most intriguing in ruins. 339 Lafayette Street appears as a mirage at the end of a City block – a ghost of New York’s past. Also known as the “Peace Pentagon,” the building at the corner of Bleeker and Lafayette has been home to a number of activist organizations since its purchase by the War Resisters League in 1969. The facade is not particularly distinguished, and the building is unrenovated after 90 years of existence. Motley stacks of books, flags, and signs obscure many windows, and banners, like this one opposing the first Gulf War from 1991, are often strewn across the cornice. The building is just a sort of backdrop for messages – an architectural sandwich board.

Times are tough for peace, and the non-profit institute that owns and operates the building can no longer ignore the estimated value of the property, and its deteriorating condition, and is contemplating a sale. Tenants, unsurprisingly, are protesting.

Image: Ed Hedemann via Peace Pentagon

Form, Place, Time, and the New Galapagos Art Space
November 15, 2008, 6:57 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Green, New York City, Sustainability

Photos by

The Galapagos Islands are renowned for their sheer number of endemic species, unique animals that inspired Darwin’s thinking about the interdependent relationship between form, place and time. Much like the islands from whence the Galapagos Art Space takes its name, their new performance and exhibition venue in the heart of Brooklyn provokes soul-searching questions about the transformational nature of culture in our city.

Artists that perform and show their work in New York City are survivors of the torrential rains of cash that have flooded the real estate markets in Manhattan and Brooklyn, washing away their cheap studios, workshops and performance spaces. Some artists and entrepreneurs have adapted, accepting assistance from developers no less, who provide low rent lifeboats in order to preserve the attractive cultural diversity of their investment. The artist Chuck Close has likened this new relationship to a “forcing a tulip bulb.” The evolutionary wheel turned, and a new interdependency formed. As a result, the latest iteration of the Galapagos space feels less experimental and spotaneous, and more programmed and curated, much the way a visit to the Galapagos Islands might feel today.

Galapagos Art Space has emerged stronger thematically and symbolically from a design standpoint, proudly wearing the title of the city’s greenest performance venue (their LEED certification is pending.) Material themes of the old space are carried over to the new, concrete, tread plate, and shallow reflecting pools, but with a greater degree of sophistication, and an eye towards sustainability. Plans for a green wall and/or a green roof are in the works. A little less rock and roll, and a little more country (in the city.)

Photo: Peter Paris

Images For Our Time
November 4, 2008, 7:08 pm
Filed under: Design, New York City

I should have brought my camera to the polls with me this morning in the west village, where the line of voters stretched all the way around the block. I have never heard so many New Yorkers complain so little. A mother entertained her two stroller-bound children by repeating “we are making history!” in a sing-song voice. That at least got some ironic eye-rolls from other voters after thirty minutes or so.

Chief International Correspondent for CNN, Christiane Amanpour, also in the City to vote today, sums up my thoughts so nicely in this piece. “Whatever happens, this US Election will change the world.”


And more political street art at The Scenic Sidewalk


Courtesy of Robert Elmes, Galapagos Art Space