Observe-Involve-Obscure
Design Proposal for an Installation at the Center for Architecture, New York, NY
Invited Competition, 2012
Status: unbuilt

Designer/Architect: Tobias Holler, HOLLER architecture
Design Consultant: Vasco Agnoli
Daylighting Consultant: Star Davis, Arup
Competition Team: Jamie Abrego, Eiman Alsakha, Vinny Ciaramella, David Hernandez, Samuel Lee, Omar Serrano

Andrew Berman’s design of the Center for Architecture (CFA) space reflects the Center's mission, to “provide resources to both the public and building industry professionals”, and “to drive positive change through the power of design.” The sectional organization of the storefront allows a visual connection to the basement and subbasement levels by a central double-height space at the street front window, providing a link the public to the activities of the center.

The proposed installation, Observe - Involve - Obscure, seeks to re-contextualize the link between the activities within the Center for Architecture and the temporal community activity at street level, both physically and metaphorically. Two sets of mirrors, suspended by cables, are positioned in the space, one set at pedestrian eye-level, the other at eye level in the lower level, under the mezzanine, creating a periscope. The reflection devices and refractive magnifying lenses, suspended within the first 5 feet of the storefront window, are designed to optically connect and represent the individuals on either side of the view portal. The influence of the installation is three-fold, triggering each to Observe to Involve and to Obscure.

Observe. On this level, the installation is a simple one, facilitating a direct view connection to the activities within the CFA from the street level. The system of mirrors provides individuals with an unexpected view to the heart of the sponsored activity and information within the Center. Simultaneously, the installation reconnects the individuals at basement level to the exterior street-level environment, which the physical form of the built space has made impossible to directly view. The juxtaposition of the deep interior view from the exterior space, and vice versa accentuates the ever-changing relationship between interior and exterior environments, particularly in relationship to light quality, intensity and color.

Involve. The installation is founded on the principles of optical reflection and redirection and as such it works in two directions. Any individual on the street has the ability to see into the CFA, but also, individuals within the CFA have the ability of have direct view outside. The duality of views functions to raise awareness that each is not merely an observer, but also within view, and a participant within the framework of the installation. As such, the installation expands the link of the CFA into the public realm, and to individuals typically unassociated with the activities within the Center.

Obscure. The complex geometry of light, material and perspective builds a perceptual condition which reframes each individual’s understanding of light, spatial perceptions and reality. A basic understanding of reflection and transmission of materials within the built environment yields a certain expectation of appearance and assumed reality. The phenomenon of light refraction forces each to interpret the apparent condition. Unexpected views push the understanding of reality, or at least each’s understanding of the relationships at hand. The installation calls into question the principles of view, light, space, and perception, particularly in relationship to the understanding of the built environment and its potential physical reality.

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View from sidewalk - nighttime