With an eye on the sky and roots in NYC and Upstate, “Oculi” art installation opens June 23 on Governors Island
ITHACA, N.Y. – “Oculi”, a temporary public art installation built using disused grain silos, will open to
the public on Saturday, June 23 on Governors Island in New York City. This installation will be on view through October 2018.
The winning entry to the City of Dreams Pavilion Competition, a design competition that promotes sustainability-oriented architecture, was created by Cornell University faculty, including Assistant Professor of Architecture Aleksandr Mergold, Associate Professor of Art Maria Park, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Chris Earls, and Visiting Critic of Architecture Scott Hughes.
Named for the shape of the dominant material, “Oculi” is constructed from several circular metal grain bins that were procured from the Midwest. Brought to the city and installed over a week in late May, the bins establish a visual connection between urban and rural modes of living. A field of elevated "oculi" frame unobstructed views of the sky and track the path of the sun.
The annual City of Dreams competition is hosted by FIGMENT, the Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA) of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY), and the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY). “Oculi”'s opening is part of weekend-long, participatory arts event FIGMENT hosts on the island each year.
The “Oculi” project was the ideal fit for Austin+Mergold, a landscape and design practice that Mergold operates with Jason Austin, a Cornell alumnus. "We had been thinking about metal grain bins for some time now, this 100-year old system," said Mergold. "A few years ago, we designed a low-cost housing unit that would use a metal grain bin, and we saw the opportunity in the City of Dreams competition to use the bins, connect upstate and downstate, and eventually continue the investigation on the housing unit again."
Mergold also sought out Earls in Cornell’s College of Engineering, recognizing that “Oculi” would be highly experimental from a structural standpoint as well. According to Earls, his work will "explore the space of engineering solutions and help conduct material and structural experimentation so as to uncover suitable forms that at once respect the architectural intent and function favorably at the site of installation on Governors Island."
The project was also an ideal fit for Park, whose work ranges from serially based paintings to sitespecific installations. At Park's suggestion, the inside of the silos are painted with subtle variations of the daytime sky color so that viewers might move from one to the next in anticipation of finding themselves under one that matched the color of a particular day or time.
"As the de/reconstructed grain bins mark awareness of a different time and place, the viewer's involvement with [the bins] also indicate a different kind of purpose or sense in movement," she said.
City of Dreams aims to promote sustainability-minded thinking in architecture and design and requires contestants to consider the environmental impact of their design from construction to demolition. Following the deinstallation of “Oculi” in late 2018, Austin+Mergold is looking for an environmentally responsible housing organization to partner with in reconstructing the bins as an experimental housing cluster in central New York.
About FIGMENT: FIGMENT catalyzes and celebrates an abundance of creativity and passion, challenging artists and our communities to find new ways to create, share, think and dream.
FIGMENT's free annual participatory arts event began in New York City in 2007 and has expanded to have hosted 62 events in 19 cities in 5 countries to date, engaging over 100,000 people a year in roughly a dozen cities. In New York, FIGMENT hosts a weekend-long participatory art event and an annual summer-long exhibition on Governors Island. FIGMENT is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization entirely funded by grants and individual donations. FIGMENT accepts no corporate sponsorship of any kind. FIGMENT NYC is supported by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, as well as by the Fund for Creative Communities, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. For more information, visit www.figmentproject.org.
About AIANY ENYA: It is the goal of the Emerging New York Architects Committee to encourage membership, participation, and leadership in the AIANY Chapter among intern architects, young architects (licensed 10 years or less), and emerging professionals in the fields of design and construction. The committee engages NYC’s diverse emerging design professionals through lectures, design competitions and networking opportunities, with a focus on Professional Development, Design Excellence and Public Outreach. Founded in 1857, AIA New York is the oldest and largest chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The Chapter’s members include more than 5,500 practicing architects, allied professionals, students, and public members interested in architecture and design. AIA New York is dedicated to three goals: design excellence, public outreach, and professional development. For more information, visit www.aiany.org.
About Governors Island: Governors Island is a 172-acre Island in the heart of New York Harbor between Lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn waterfront. Eight minutes from the energy and excitement of the City, the Island today is a popular seasonal destination. A resilient new park is complemented by dozens of unique historic buildings, environmental educational facilities, a rich arts and culture program and a 22-acre National Monument managed by the National Park Service.
Unlike anywhere else in New York City, Governors Island offers peaceful settings with sweeping views of the Harbor, Lower Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty. Looking ahead, the Island will be activated year-round as a sustainable center for learning and entrepreneurship.