Five Ideas

Five Ideas for Public Space: Wayne and Karolina Switzer

Wayne and Karolina Switzer

Wayne and Karolina Switzer

This summer, GOOD and the BMW Guggenheim Lab launched a worldwide, online call for ideas, inviting the public to respond to the question, “How would you transform a public space?” Curator Maria Nicanor recently selected five top ideas from the one hundred twenty submissions. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting profiles of the people whose ideas were selected. Follow along here on Lab | Log as they discuss their innovative projects.

Wayne and Karolina Switzer, husband-and-wife architects, have lived near a small park in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint for the last seven years. They noticed that, while their neighbors spend a lot of time in the park, its grand Beaux Arts pavilion—Ionic limestone columns arranged in an arc—is mostly ignored by park users. Wayne Switzer sees the pavilion’s neglect as a result of the changing uses of parks from places of rest and contemplation to spaces devoted to activity. “Like many buildings from earlier eras, its original function has ceased to be understood or of value to the people who frequent it,” he says.

He and Karolina decided that the pavilion, which was designed in 1910 and named a New York City landmark in 1966, could become an active spot again if present-day visitors had a way to interact with it. Enter the Pavilion Harp, the Switzers’ City Forward proposal that imagines the pavilion as the frame for a grand-scale stringed instrument—one that can be played by park visitors, musicians, and dilettantes alike. As the Switzers see it, the “harp” would attract people to a neglected part of the park but not be cacophonous or overbearing.

The Switzers’ renderings of the project feature images of Martha Graham and other modern dancers moving airily through the pavilion with the harp’s wires overhead. The instrument would work by stringing two sets of wires through the pavilion and attaching them to two of the structure’s columns. The wires would be connected to two carbon-fiber A-frames (simplified versions of violin bridges) held in tension against the pavilion’s ceiling, resulting in a giant harp that could be played by as many as four people at a time. Switzer, a musician himself, says that, “the wire installation and bridge lends itself to bowing (arco), plucking (pizzicato) and striking (collegno).”

Pavilion Harp

Rendering of the Pavilion Harp

Musical technique aside, the Switzers see the harp as a way to give the culturally diverse neighborhood of Greenpoint a new focal point. Says Switzer, “Generally speaking, this is another positive aspect about musical instruments—that they evoke a natural curiosity among people regardless of age or demographic.”

As Atelier Switzer, the couple has designed furniture and competition entries for a chapel in San Antonio, Texas and student housing in Athens. They are currently spending six weeks in Ghana where they are applying techniques of rammed-earth construction to a modern building. Switzer explains that, “Similar to the Pavilion Harp, it is an exercise in restraint, making use of a minimal palette of materials.” If all goes well, the Switzers will get the chance to see this approach at work in their own neighborhood: the architects are currently in the process of contacting instrument builders and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to make the Pavilion Harp a reality.

Pavilion Harp perspective rendering

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Images: courtesy Wayne and Karolina Switzer