Ozella’s Code. A Front Page Controversy

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In today’s Times, it is reported that part of the extensive graphics we have designed for the new monument being constructed at Frederick Douglass Circle, have become the center of a heated controversy. Beneath an eight-foot-tall sculpture of Douglass, by Gabriel Koren, the plans call for a huge quilt in granite, by Algernon Miller, who designed the memorial site, each geometrical element supposedly part of a secret code sewn into family quilts and used along the Underground Railroad to aid slaves in their escape North to freedom. As part of the project, we had prepared a design for a bronze and colored enamel plaque displaying this. Unfortunately, it appears that the basis for this theory, known as Ozella’s Code, published in the book Hidden in Plain View, by Jacqueline Tobin, and much publicized on the Oprah Winfrey show, is now being challenged as potentially bogus. You can read the full account via the Times link above. In the meantime, I guess we better dust off our computer files, and wait for further developments.

Some Things Never Change

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Ten years ago, when we worked on the graphics with Fox & Fowle (now FXFowle) for their new Subway station in Times Square at Broadway and 42nd Street, we had the Times Square Brewery and a half-size Concorde on our shoulders. Today, we have an entire 50 storey tower and some nifty Target advertising. In fact, the graphics were recreated for the new building replicating the original design. I think that means our client may be pleased with what we came up with. We are proud to say that it appears that the Municipal Art Society were, as the signage has been honored with their blue ribbon award. More information can be seen on our project pages.

Dream Library “AlphaPets”

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As part of the Dream Library Project, a series of mini-libraries for the New York Public School System, sponsored by McGraw-Hill and in association with Helpern Architects, we developed a series of animal forms created entirely out of typographic characters. These AlphaPets (we have about thirty to date) are designed to act as a learning stimulus for young schoolchildren and are intended to be installed on hanging ceiling baffles and other components within the library spaces: a low-cost solution for creating a stimulating learning environment. Designers Saki Tanaka and Millie Lin in our studio were responsible for most of these and for pretending that it was hard work.

Remember the Good Old Days?

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It is presently 70 degrees (21 Celcius) in New York. Just a reminder of what it should look like at this time of the year. (I took this picture three years ago on January 20th in the Rambles in Central Park. It shows the early morning sun striking the Dakota apartment building at 72nd Street, with the steeply-pitched roofs, so named because when it stood there alone when it was built in 1893 living there was considered to be so far out of town, folks said “it might as well be in the Dakotas.”)

Accidental Appleman

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We were all slicing away at an apple from the Union Square Market during lunch today when we looked down and discovered we had created, quite unintentionally, this inscrutable appleperson. What a nice way to begin the year. Serendipity Rules.

Sake Barrels and Torli Gates

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The shrines and temples of Japan abound with iconic views, in this instance a wall of Sake barrels, used as part of purification rituals, and an avenue of Torli gates, at the Shinto Hie Shrine in Tokyo.

Fukuoka Subway: On the Right Track

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One of the delights of being invited to conferences is meeting new colleagues and discovering their work. This was particularly the case in Kyoto in October, where among many new introductions, I met Toshimitsu Sadamura, the designer of the new Fukuoka City Subway, Nanakuma LIne. This ten-year project puts other subway systems to shame for its clarity of vision and depth of attention to detail. Spectacular in every aspect, it is its accessibility that it particularly impresses. Universal design concepts have been integtated effortlessly (for the user, not the designer) into every aspect of its design. One can only give a glimpse of what has been achieved in these four photographs, but the project is well illustrated in Toshimitsu’s publication A Universal Design for Public Transportation. Sadly, this book is not available on any English language websites, but you may be able to get a copy by ordering in Japanese from the link above, or by contacting Toshimitsu’s company: GA-TAP.Inc.

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Prayers and Pachinko (and Fish)

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Three images taken in Tokyo during my visit to Japan last month to make a presentation as a keynote speaker at the Universal Design Conference in Kyoto. More to follow.

Late For Work Again

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You don’t often think of public support of the Arts in the context of street entertainers, but the MTA is to be lauded for encouraging much of what is heard in the Subway system. As a result, over the years I have often arrived at work a little later than intended, although this horn player certainly cannot be held responsible for my not knowing what time it was. Taken this morning on the R train platform at Times Square.

A Banner Year

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“The Urban Forest Project presents the work of 185 celebrated (that’s nice) designers, artists, illustrators and photographers from 21 countries. Each banner uses the form of a tree, or a metaphor for the tree, to make a powerful visual statement. Together they create a forest of thought-provoking images at the crossroads or the World, one of the planet’s busiest, most energetic and emphatically urban intersections”.

So reads the official introduction to the Urban Forest banner project, just installed in and around Times square. We are proud to have been invited to design one of the banners. Our banner is located on the North side of 41st Street at 6th Avenue, facing directly onto Bryant Square, by coincidence in the same block as my old penthouse studio at 42nd and Broadway. We have also included three favorites by other designers, from top to bottom: Walker Art Center, Donna David, and Seymour Chwast.

Following their display in and around Times Square, during September and October, the banners will be recycled into tote bags and be sold at auction. You can find out where and how at the Urban Forest website, where you can also order some nifty tee-shirts.