Fred A. Bernstein -- Interior Design, 4/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
As the Time Warner Center in New York neared its completion last year, passersby were intrigued by a giant glass case attached to the southeast corner of the building. Roughly triangular and approximately 12 stories high, the projection offered no clue to its purpose. Was it some kind of solar panel? A platform for advertising signage? An art installation?
The latter turned out to be the most accurate. The structure is the invention of architect David Childs, consulting partner of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the firm responsible for the entire Time Warner Center. The 150-foot-tall, low-iron glass and stainless-steel creation completes the geometry of the vast building as it sweeps around the west side of Columbus Circle. "It's the hinge between Midtown and the Upper West Side," Childs explains.
Although Time Warner executives involved in the project have hailed the appendage as a "jewel box," it would not be used to boast Times Square–style signage for other companies. An agreement with the city restricts third-party advertising on the Columbus Circle building. So, for several months, the glass case stood empty.
Enter David Rome, an artist whose Rome Antics Productions does multimedia installations for corporate and institutional clients. For the Time Warner structure, he created a vast "environmental sculpture" that consists of 12 rows of translucent polycarbonate panels, each concealing hundreds of feet of LEDs. The panels attach to a steel truss that hangs from the ceiling of the case, and the sculpture's hardware mimics the fasteners designed by Childs for the facade.
Now known as the Prow Sculpture, the appearance of the LEDs changes several times an hour, controlled electronically in 1-foot segments. By day, dichroic acrylic fins—hung perpendicular to the polycarbonate panels—glow orange, blue, green, and magenta. Sunlight permeates the glass, casting shadows of the sculpture onto the plaza in front of the Time Warner Center.
By night, the panels cycle though a light show that includes a virtual snowfall and jazz-inspired effects. Each quarter hour, the display becomes a "symbolic clock," says Rome, with combinations of larger and smaller panels indicating hours and minutes.
The lights even can be programmed for special occasions. An orange glow, for example, was orchestrated for Christo and Jeanne-Claude's recent Gates installation in Central Park. Time Warner can also promote special events by projecting logos onto the panels, under an agreement with the city planning commission.
Time Warner's investment goes far beyond the cost of the 10-ton sculpture. The glass case itself, essentially a greenhouse filled with electronics, requires some 200 tons of air-conditioning. And the exterior glass and sculpture must be cleaned often—the effect is somewhat tarnished by dirt on the prow's clear-glass floor, which runs above the Columbus Circle subway station.
Few would dispute that the sculpture isn't worth all the effort. Rome's creation—lovely when it's on and enigmatic when it's not—is a pleasing addition to the skyline. As Childs observes, "It adds visual activity to this important corner of the city."
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