Who we are as a city is defined by how we interact in our public spaces. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value of our public spaces and their role in creating connected, healthy, and resilient communities. Since its inception in 2014, the Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation has been a platform for the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute to bring people together and support inventive visions for an iconic urban plaza. This year’s installation, Point of Action by Studio Cooke John, offers the neighborhood continuity as we consider how public space can develop bonds and networks that help our city heal and thrive.
Van Alen Institute and the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership are thrilled to collaborate with Studio Cooke John to create a highly visible temporary landmark at the heart of the Flatiron District. Studio Cooke John’s installation Point of Action is currently on view through January 1, 2021 in the Flatiron Public Plazas on Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street in Manhattan. The installation is permitted through NYC DOT Art and will be open to the public daily, weather permitting.
Studio Cooke John was selected by the Partnership and Van Alen from a shortlist of seven firms, each recommended by design experts in Van Alen’s network. The other shortlisted firms were Architensions, Austin + Mergold, Bryony Roberts Studio, Office Lou Arencibia, Studio Ijeoma, and Studio Zewde.
The Flatiron Public Plaza Design Installation is part of Van Alen Institute’s Public Realm R&D program, intended to surface the work of emerging designers and test new strategies to bring people together in public space.
Studio Cooke John: Point of Action
“We are at a threshold during this pandemic. Now that our eyes have been opened to realities that have been with us all along, how do we move forward? My hope is that Point of Action makes people think about how we connect to the people we see every day so that we can move forward together.”
—Nina Cooke John, Principal and Founder, Studio Cooke John
Studio Cooke John is a multidisciplinary design studio with a broad range of expertise that values placemaking as a way to transform relationships between people and the built environment. Led by founder Nina Cooke John, the Point of Action project team includes fabricator Charlie Spademan of Spademan Fabrication; Braulio Duran of NY Lighting Group, which is donating in-kind fabrication services; lighting consultant Jimmie Drummond of Drummond Projects; and installation contractor Kathy Lysikowska-Diaz of KLD NY Inc.
Throughout the design process, Studio Cooke John’s collaborations with clients yield insights that inform how they, alongside a network of craftsmen, fabricators and consultants, transform spaces within the home and in the public sphere. What emerge are spaces tailored to each client’s needs, revealing elements of serendipity and surprise that last a lifetime.
Point of Action invites New Yorkers and visitors to contemplate the experience of seeing one another—and being seen. Once the viewer steps out of their usual routine and into the installation’s threshold, there are multiple opportunities for connection with fellow viewers and with passersby. Six-foot circles affixed onto the Flatiron Public Plazas create nine “spotlights,” each with its own vertical metal frame. Ropes weave through each frame and part, like a curtain figuratively pulled aside, to make room for the viewer to take the spotlight, connect with other viewers across the Plazas, and take action as they move out and beyond. Lighting emitted from a halo above each circle strengthens the framing; lights embedded into the sides of each frame add another layer to the viewer.
As the first Flatiron Public Design Installation to be spread throughout both the North and South Plazas, Point of Action’s larger footprint allows for more socially distanced engagement. However, the installation’s concentric circles ripple out from each spot, eventually connecting with other circles, and thus other viewers, across the Plazas.