Block Party

Block Party

The site is designed as a
Dean Kaufman

Vacant parcels of Manhattan real estate are usually cordoned off behind chain-link fences or occupied by “taxpayer” parking lots until they can be turned into income-earning buildings. But the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) has worked with Trinity Real Estate to make a bare downtown block the developer owns—in the newly designated Hudson Square neighborhood—into a temporary public space.

Bounded by Canal, Grand, Sullivan, and Varick streets, the block was intended for a rental building, but the recent market downturn forced the project to be put on hold. So Trinity donated the site for what the LMCC conceived as an “in the meantime” platform for contemporary art, design, and performance. Dubbed LentSpace and opening to the public tomorrow, the project will be programmed throughout the year by the LMCC, which commissioned the architects Interboro Partners to design it, with a graphic identity by the Brooklyn group Thumb.

The tree nursery helps soften an area dominated by hardscape.

Photographs by Dean Kaufman

Interboro has subdivided the graveled site into visually interlocking spaces through the use of earth-filled plywood boxes filled with trees, themselves destined to be repurposed throughout Lower Manhattan at a later date. A 215-foot-long, operable plywood fence fronts a display surface for commissioned graphic design projects, and doubles as a bench meant for social encounters. The first exhibit, Points and Lines, was organized by LMCC curator Adam Kleinman and features eight artists who created temporary sculptural pieces out of common building materials that refer to the constructive nature of the site. The exhibit also furthers Interboro’s aim to create activated spaces and thresholds, while encouraging a variety of performance pieces.

Together, the art and urban design help to invigorate a part of the city that is short on public open space. This site could easily have remained closed off to New Yorkers for years, so the developer should be applauded for donating the land—along with F.J. Sciame Construction, which donated the labor. The space is open from 7:00 a.m. to dusk, and Points of Light will run through January.

The custom operable fence contains benches for social encounters.