Soft–Firm’s Love Letters comes alive in Times Square with notes of care

Sending the Right Message

Soft–Firm’s Love Letters comes alive in Times Square with notes of care

Love Letters, the winner of Times Square Arts’ 13th annual Times Square Design Competition, is up, running, and prompting spontaneous acts of heartfelt message-writing in the heart of Midtown Manhattan.

The large-scale interactive public art installation, conceived by interdisciplinary New York design practice Soft–Firm, was publicly unveiled at Father Duffy Square on February 10 and will remain on view through March 10. On March 5, Love Letters will also serve as the backdrop for a sunset dance performance by Marielis Garcia.

batman ties a ribbon to a public art installation
A Times Square denizen ties a message-inscribed ribbon to Love Letters. (Photo by Maria Baranova/Courtesy Times Square Arts)

Realized in plywood, safety net, and dichroic film, the curvaceous form of Love Letters incorporates a quartet of programmed spaces into a single folding surface and, from above, resembles the shape of two intertwined hearts. Working with a project team that included junior designer Tanvi Marina Rao and fabricator Pink Sparrow, with additional support from Barry Cordage and Layr, Soft­–Firm founding members Lexi Tsien and Talitha Liu envisioned an ephemeral structureLove Letters is one part (socially distanced) communal public hang-out space, and one part vehicle for passersby to affix colored “wish” ribbons with their own short messages of hope, goodwill, gratitude, protest, and romantic sentiment to the installation’s netted underlay.

ribbons adorning a public art installation in times square
(Photo by Maria Baranova/Courtesy Times Square Arts)

As Tsien and Liu previously told AN, Love Letters was inspired in part by different token-leaving traditions like love locks and ancient votive offerings as well as more local, contemporary works such as Subway Therapy at Union Square station and the 9/11 Tiles for America project in the West Village. The ribbons are thought of as a “softer” version of love locks—“a symbol of safety and security but also fortitude,” said Tsien—capable of transforming the sculptural work from a plywood blank canvas of sorts into a constantly evolving public repository of benevolent missives during a time of unthinkable loss.

(Times Square Arts had established plywood as a material constraint for this year’s competition given its new ubiquity in pandemic-battered New York and other cities. The plywood used to construct Love Letters was donated by Empire State Realty Trust and Columbia Property Trust.)

a curvaceous public art installation in the middle of times square
The Soft–Firm-designed Love Letters, pictured in its unadorned state, will be on view through March 10. (Photo by Soft–Firm/Courtesy Times Square Arts)

“It’s incredibly satisfying to see how the piece reflects context throughout the day and how performatively the public responds—with photoshoots, impromptu proposals, birthday parties, protests, or quiet moments of reflection,” said Tsien of the complete work. “Its also been incredibly touching to see the genuine sentiments expressed physically and submitted digitally from all corners of the world. The piece has already completely transformed through its interactions with the public and their outpouring of Love Letters.”

multicolored dichroic film reflecting light
The installation’s dichroic film casting light at nighttime. (Photo by Maria Baranova/Courtesy Times Square Arts)

As mentioned by Tsien, those who can’t make it to Times Square in person but wish to participate can submit short messages via an online form. The submitted missives are then transcribed onto individual ribbons and tied to Love Letters by “public art ambassadors” dispatched by Times Square Arts.

“Sending my love to my dearly loved family, some of which I long to hug but currently not allowed to,” reads a submitted message.

“As a nurse, I get to come to NYC and sprinkle love at the Vaccine Clinic @ Javits Center ❤ NYC,” wrote one digital participant.

“Breonna, you will never be forgotten,” another message reads.

a curvaceous public art installation in the middle of times square
Love Letters pictured before ribbon-tying commenced. (Photo by ESTO/Michael Vahrenwald/Courtesy Times Square Arts)

This year’s Times Square Design Competition, “Love in Our Times,” was curated by 2019 winner Reddymade and developed in consultation with worthless studios. Previously known as the Times Square Valentine Heart Design competition, the event was expanded this year to include “broader notions of interdependence, collective resilience, and inclusivity” while maintaining its affection-centered theme according to Times Square Arts.

Office of Tangible Space, Present Forms, Studio 397, and Studio Cooke John were invited to submit proposals to the competition alongside Soft–Firm. In addition to Reddymade founder Suchi Reddy and worthless studios founder Neil Hamamoto, the competition selection committee included Tim Tompkins, former president of the Times Square Alliance; Elizabeth Masella, Senior Public Art Coordinator for NYC Parks; AIA New York president Kim Yao, and others.

Soft–Firm’s Love Letters was also featured in a recent PBS News Hour segment, which can be viewed here.