The Online Magazine about New York Designers
Sol of the City
DB: It sounds like a lot of these collaborations came out of networking at the IDSA. Are there other groups that you've found useful in terms of resources and people?
AA: Well, we already mentioned the NYS ERDA. Around the time I was getting involved with the IDSA, we also formed the New York chapter of O2. At the time, O2 was a European based environmental design organization. Now there are chapters in several cities.
DB: One of the great things about O2 is their philosophy of sharing information and collaborating.
AA: Exactly. Wendy Brawer, who co-founded O2NY, also put together the team for the Liberty Science Center project, so it was very much about collaboration. Wendy and I won the competition, having made the proposal together, and then it was more my job to actually build the thing.
LG: What is the Liberty Park project about?
AA: SolSpherica is an interactive outdoor exhibit arranged like a giant compass with each direction representing something. At the north point, there's a house-shaped box containing the control center for the 1 kilowatt photovoltaic system. At the east, there is a panoramic view of New York City, where we show how the city might look if it were "solarized." We calculated that it if you put solar panels on 26% of the city's surfaces, you could power all of Con Ed's portion of the city.
At the south is a solar tracker with a joy stick so you can take the panel off track and see how the energy drops. And at the west, there's a solar powered Theremin [the instrument that made all those eerie sounds in early sci fi movies].
They each represent a level of scale. The Theremin represents the Galaxy. The angled box represents Home, the city view is Community and the solar tracker is the Earth.
DB: Who else do you work with? Do you do all these projects collaboratively?
AA: Almost always. There's really only a point that you can work to alone, and then you have to really bring other people in, for production and other things. And, it also makes it more fun…
AA: Exactly. Most of my collaborations are with fabricators. I guess it's mostly me, ordering things…but, a lot of the time, it's low budget and there's sometimes time constraints, there tends to be a lot of back and forth with the fabricators…
DB: Are these local fabricators?
AA: Right. I have a good friend who has a metal shop in Brooklyn…
DB: I often find that the nature of the local resources, say, a metal shop in Brooklyn, affects not only my ability to do a project, but also, it allows the project to happen in the first place…If I was in a place that was less urban, or in a place with fewer resources, would the project happen at all? Or would it happen differently?
AA: It's a bit like Canal Street. It's great to have Canal Street, but you can start relying on it…it becomes "I'll only design this if I can find it on Canal Street…"
LG: But, think of how much you can find on Canal Street…There's endless possibilities…
DB: Is that a constraint, or a freedom? Is Canal Street a dependency? (laughter)
LG: We have to get a support group of people like us, who are addicted to Canal Street…
DB: It's not just the availability; it's the type of resources. A lot of the metal guys who you go to locally are probably more artistically inclined, and therefore, they understand what it is you are trying to do…
AA: And, don't you find that a lot of the metal guys are sculptors?
DB: Yeah. But I think that's again because of where we are; they are not just tin-knockers…The gist of it is, do you think that your work would have happened or evolved differently, if you had been somewhere else? Do you see yourself doing your work somewhere else?
AA: I think it could have evolved somewhere else, though I wouldn't have become such a good name-dropper. (laughter) I don't know if I would have come to meet Ben and Jerry…some of those connections probably wouldn't have happened, had I not lived here…the Cooper Hewitt wouldn't have happened, and all of the connections through them… It probably would have happened, but in a different way.