Melissa Hope Matlins

Treehouses, or “Displacements”
October 17, 2008, 7:36 pm
Filed under: New York City, Urbanism

Artist Tadashi Kawamata conjures up magical childhood memories for many with the construction of his ad-hoc treehouses in Madison Square Park.

Though they are a bit too wee for full grown humans to occupy, the structures (or as the artist likes to refer to them, displacements) form a pleasant juxtaposition when viewed against the surrounding skyline of staid gray office buildings. Each house was constructed on site, board by board, and whimsically adapts to the contours of tree branches. The artist also wants to assure you that no trees were harmed in the making of this artwork. Bark is protected with rubber sleeves, and lumber secured with racheting straps, not nails.

The Treehouses project marks the return of Kawamata’s public art to New York City. In 1992, he famously swathed the decrepit and intriguing Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island in a lacy network of boards. What does it all mean? Kawamata’s work resonates with the public because it sparks the imagination, asking questions, provoking a visceral reaction but but providing few answers. Public and private? The city vs. nature? A commentary on the ephemeral? Homelessness? Perhaps.

A (little) more info on: The Tree Huts blog


Aptly Named Mini-Park
July 30, 2008, 3:35 pm
Filed under: New York City, Urbanism

This New York City public public park in Queens is not deemed Short for its size (a scant .01 acre), but is so named for Albert E. Short, a former Queens Assistant District Attorney known for prosecuting bootleggers, extortionists and juvenile delinquents. Park benches surround the fenced in spot of green, providing seating for neighborhood residents, commuters waiting for the subways that rumble overhead, visitors to PS 1 down the road, and perhaps a juvenile delinquent or two.

Fresh Chicks Move to Brooklyn
July 28, 2008, 11:14 pm
Filed under: New York City

I took a different path to the subway this morning and observed to my dismay that Bo Bo Poultry‘s retail store on Broome Street has closed, they are headed to Brookyn. This sliver of a store has been cited by a number of fancy media outlets, the New York Times and New York Magazine among them, as a purveyor of exceptionally fresh bird. Now only available across the water, where everything seems to be a little fresher these days. Its hard to believe that this tiny place was a victim of rising rents in this quiet corner of Chinatown but somehow I am not entirely surprised.

Funny Things About the Urban Farm
July 25, 2008, 7:30 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Green, New York City, Sustainability, Urbanism

What’s cooler than agriculture? Urban agriculture that’s what. I attended a party at the temporary installation of “Public Farm One,” in the courtyard of PS.1, and had an opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the flora and a few very scared looking chickens and chicks that roam the grounds looking for brightly pedicured feet to peck.

Oversized cardboard tubes form a big, lazy V-shape, with a cutout in the middle for a wading pool, painted a florescent turquoise reminiscent of a suburban, above-ground special. When not filled to capacity with throngs of sweaty revelers, the place fails to pack much of a inspirational punch. It was a bit difficult to enjoy the plantings as they mostly hovered above observation level, likely placed there for their own protection. Walking around the enclosed courtyard, you sometimes felt as if you were in a sci-fi movie spoof – Attack of the Killer Toilet Rolls, as people ducked into and and underneath the paper columns, appearing to lose heads and hands.

According to the project’s designers, Work Architecture, the vision for the project originated from the rallying cries of French students in 1968 “Sous les pavés, la plage” (more or less, “Under the paving stones, a better life”). This concept was twisted into “Sur les paves, la ferme” (“Over the pavement, the farm.”) Everything sounds sexier in French, doesn’t it? But is the Farm really a stage for a new kind of revolution, or just a summer place to dance and drink?

A Photo in the Garden
July 24, 2008, 8:03 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Green, New York City, Sustainability, Urbanism

A victory for me, yes, but really a victory for sustainable architecture in New York City – I just found out that I have received an honorable mention in the USGBC – NY Chapter Photo Contest (winning image above) for my picture of the new Queens Botanical Garden Visitor & Adminstration Center, designed by BKSK Architects. The building opened in September 2007 (when this photo was taken) and just received a LEED Platinum rating, a first for a public building in New York City. Another photo taken that same evening:

The Earth? We’ve Got it Covered
July 23, 2008, 9:20 pm
Filed under: Design, Green, New York City, Sustainability

Leaving a party the other night on far west 46th Street – still industrial territory in New York City – I was surprised to see this banner proudly lit outside of a warehouse. In this day and age, was it true that the symbol of a corporation could be our planet earth smothered in red paint, or was this an abandoned and forgotten emblem, a holdover from a more innocent time?

As I found out, this paint covered earth logo was conceived in a vastly more innocent time, the late 1800’s to be exact, and is actively used as a corporate logo today. The Sherwin Williams website explains the history. that “the logo’s purpose was to represent the company’s desire to help beautify and protect the buildings of the world.” Hmm. The explanation goes on to say that “Over the years our “Cover the Earth” logo has become a figurative emblem signifying integrity and service.”

I don’t often dispense free marketing advice, but I would say that changing a corporate logo once or twice in 100+ years is not necessarily a bad thing, though I can’t think of a proper corporate logo that represents fuzzy concepts like “integrity and service.” I can think of a corporate logo that represents industrial pollution though, and it looks something like a paint smothered earth.

Sherwin Williams is by no means an industry leader in the sustainability game either. They offer a lone line of VOC (volatile organic compound) free paint, and self-certify their products using their own “GreenSure” designation, instead of using an independent third-party certification program. 100 years on the logo still kinda suits.

Water Falls Leave Their Light On
July 10, 2008, 4:39 am
Filed under: Design, New York City, Urbanism

Much ado has been made over Eliasson’s Waterfalls, and after seeing them at night I can confirm that at least some of the hype is justified. A leisurely stroll to the Eastern-most end of Grand Street at dusk, and you are treated to these lovely views of falling water along the promenade, mystically lit. One waterfall south of the pier is close up and clearly visible, and another peeks into view under the bridge in the distance. It just might be the biggest temporary piece of public art in New York City since Christo’s Gates.