This past fall, I had the opportunity to be part of a video class at Columbia University run by Cassim Shepard, curator of the video content for the 2006 Venice Architectural Biennale and founding director of Urban Omnibus, a project of the Architectural League. The goal of Montage City is to create the sense of a space through the collection and juxtaposition of video as a means to supplement urban proposals as architects, designers and urban planners. As Shepard writes in a piece about a prior Montage City class,
“Students were encouraged to investigate these ineffable essences in repeated visits, by shooting video of people doing things (such as shoveling snow or fixing bait to a fishing pole), of people moving through space (such as commuting on the Roosevelt Island Gondola or driving over the Brooklyn Bridge), and of details of the built environment (such as housing stock or streetscape design). Some of the sites, like Willets Point, Coney Island or Admiral’s Row at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, are facing large-scale redevelopment; others, like City Island or 138th Street in Harlem, are buffeted by subtler and slower forces of urban change. All of the sites students chose to document are undergoing some form of transformation, yet these videos are less about preserving a moment in time than about interpreting what makes a place feel a certain way.”
Here are some of my favorite videos:
[via Urban Omnibus] In Alok Shetty’s paean to a beloved landmark, the architectural iconicity of the Brooklyn Bridge coexists with its functional role as a vital part of the city’s traffic system. By cleverly switching between these two modes of looking at the bridge, underscored by his use of timelapse videography and music, his video articulates both the crucial necessity and the timeless indeterminacy of infrastructure.
[via Urban Omnibus] Julie Jira’s exploration of Coney Island is organized in a day-to-night structure, opened by a subway journey to the end of the line that literally and figuratively frames her gaze on a storied landscape defined by the interaction between natural and built components: gulls alighting on docks, fishermen preparing for a catch, children playing along the shoreline. In so doing, she manages to resist the visual clichÃ©s of Coney Island without abandoning careful observation of the neighborhood’s icons: the boardwalk, the rides, the beach.
I chose to document the Golden Mall, an underground Chinese food court near Flushing Main Street. Untapped had previously explored the Golden Mall through photography (and of course eating) but I wanted to convey the sense of controlled chaos that exists there and the diversity of sounds and languages. Most importantly perhaps, I hoped to show a little pocket heterotopia at the far end of a subway line that embodies New York City as much as a major landmark–and that these types of spaces should be actively encouraged in a city’s zoning and development policy.
As a Taiwanese-American who can speak (some) Mandarin, I think I was allowed much more filming leeway than if I wasn’t. Through my repeated visits, I became a known figure with the camera. The workers knew me and welcomed me back each time, allowing me to film them close up, from a distance, however I wanted. I didn’t bother with a tripod because of the crowded nature of the space and because I wanted everyone to feel as natural as possible. I wish I had a better video camera but overall, I was pleased that I was able to capture the unique qualities of this place.
Golden Mall is located at 4128 Main Street in Flushing [Map]
Hunts Point Riverside Park by Ori Guy:
This video captures the uneasy relationship between industry and lived space at Hunts Point through a clear and compelling narrative. The photographic stillness and framing of the shots are gradually overlayed with small movements, whether from the bobbing motion of a platform on the water, the hint of a rowing paddle or ball coming into view, or the movement of a crane in the distance.
Gateway Center, East New York by Felicity Stewart:
Gateway Center, East New York highlights the strange coming together of forms when a suburban box store like Target is placed in an urban context. The necessity of the store requires a large plot of land, so vacant post-industrial plots are often used creating a contrast between the natural landscape and the repetitive forms of a megastore.
Willets Point by Andrew Kim:
Broadway Junction, East New York conveys the activity and diverse sounds of the neighborhood without ever showing movement. The imagery demonstrates the wide range of built forms, ranging from cobblestone, to barbed wire, to steel, to residential rooftops.
To read more about Montage City, check out Urban Omnibus.