Somewhat Still, Definitely Not Silent

September 26, 2011

The view of Lower Manhattan from Fort Jay on Governors Island and the view of Ground Zero from the 46th floor of 7WTC.

Initially my interest in stillspotting nyc, a project by the Guggenheim Museum, was motivated by the research I’ve done for my book on silence.  My sense is that finding reservoirs of silence within the city is more essential than going off to some remote, uninhabited place in search of peace.  (In the interest of urban tranquility, I’ve  tried wandering around Manhattan wearing noise-canceling headphones.)  But the Manhattan edition of stillspotting, staged over the past two weekends was not about silence at all.  Rather it was about using the meditative music of Estonian composer Arvo Part and the spatial sense of the Norwegian architecture firm Snohetta to reframe the city and create a series of heart rate slowing urban moments.

Each location — the Labyrinth in Battery Park,   the Magazine and Overlook at Fort Jay on Governors Island, the lobby of the Woolworth Building, and the empty 46th floor of 7 WTC — had its own atmospheric Part composition.   For me, the most transformative experience was wandering around the empty floor of 7WTC with spare piano work “Hymn to a Great City” piped in.  I’ve been in that building many times before, but always for parties or crowded public events.  With only a handful of people up there, and the slow, insistent  music, I felt like I was seeing the view, not from a New York skyscraper, but from the top of some desert mesa.

In next stillspotting,  the architecture firm SO-IL will try to extract a little repose from   Jackson Heights, Queens early next year.

P.S.  I just finished writing about the 9-11 Memorial for the November issue of Metropolis. For the moment I’ll say this:  it’s a  peculiarly disorienting place.

P.P.S.  I’ll also have more to say about this  later, but my article about Almere in the Netherlands as a City of the Future is in the current issue of Travel + Leisure and up on the website.