Richard Johnson Design

urban ecotones: regeneration



In biology, an ecotone is a transition area between two adjacent but different patches of landscape. It may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line. The overlap of these two systems typically has far higher biodiversity than either of its adjacent habitats. Similarly, the boroughs of New York can be seen as a set of overlapping, layered and mutually dependent ecosystems?in some cases merging, and at other times sharply delineated. These include both natural and human ecosystems; both have evolved with exceptional richness in New York. Four hundred years ago Manhattan was extremely ecologically diverse, with over 1000 species of plants and vertebrate animals?more than can be found in Yellowstone or Yosemite today. Today, Queens is the most ethnically diverse area in the United States. The overlap of cultural vitality with a rich ecological heritage creates a unique setting with which to reflect on urban sustainability and its potential future forms in the region.

The Studio for Urban Projects and RJD proposes a framework for the ReGeneration exhibition, entitled Urban Ecotones, that draws upon the concept of the biological ecotone to: frame the artworks in the show; map systems of ecological, cultural and urban regeneration; and draw visitors to and from the show through specific urban sites where these dynamics can be seen at work. As in a biological ecotone, Urban Ecotones will create rich connections in the transitional zones between these elements, ultimately mapping the potential hybrid of ecological, cultural and urban regeneration.


The exhibition concept operates on three scales: the installation, the map, and urban sites. These three scales will be experienced simultaneously upon entering the exhibition from the mezzanine. Visitors looking down into the space will first experience the exhibition as a diagram of relationships, which explore the concept of regeneration through the elements of the show. As one descends and meanders through the space, the exhibition will reveal a finer-grained illustration of more subtle connections between projects, ideas, and the city. Finally, the installation will direct visitors toward specific sites in the five boroughs?places that can be experienced with a new understanding of the forces of regeneration at work, in ways both dramatic and subtle.


The installation will be defined by a series of overlapping spatial enclosures containing the ten selected artists projects. These enclosures will be created by both hanging curtains and standing walls; both sharing similar geometries. The architecture of Urban Ecotones borrows from the fluidity and diversity of biological ecotones, to create complex and dynamic spatial relationships. At the overlap of project spaces, the boundary walls defining each area will juxtapose and blend projects, ideas, and geography. By peeling away, or becoming permeable, the areas of overlap will be made accessible. These interstitial spaces will be dedicated areas for social interaction, discussion, and information relating to the exhibition, and regenerative processes in the city at large.

The installation will use materials that are physically and visually light, and varying in porosity, to create spaces that range from transparent to opaque. The enclosure membranes will differentiate the artist?s projects, accommodating specific requirements for lighting and sound. Since many of the installations involve light and/or projection, special attention will be given to how materials interact with light and images through reflection, refraction, silhouetting, etc. All materials and construction systems will be economical and easily assembled. The interstitial spaces of the installation, or metaphoric ecotones, will form the social and informational nodes of the project. They will create a range of social experiences, including: built-in furniture to sit, rest or hold conversations; enclosed alcoves for more private experiences; and horizontal and vertical text, graphics and signage.


The ground plane of the installations overlapped spaces will create the second element of the Urban Ecotones installation?the map. Seen from the mezzanine level, the map will diagram the pieces in the show, providing conceptual connections between them. As social/interactive spaces, the overlap zones will convey information about the city, to provoke thought and discussion around regeneration at an urban scale. A hybrid of ideas and geography, the map will draw from the history of Situationist mapping, suggesting new interpretations of the city through fragmented, terrestrial and subjective reinterpretations of planemetric maps, rather than as a literal transcription of geography. The map will include graphics containing QR codes that point to media related to select urban sites. These graphics will be duplicated on-site as well and indicated through signage such as pavement graphics.


The third element of the show will be a collection of urban sites that illustrate the concepts of cultural, ecological, and urban regeneration throughout the five boroughs. In determining these sites, we have begun with the research of Dr. Eric Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and the author of Manahatta and its current form Wilikea. Sanderson?s work looks back 400 years to reconstruct the pre-urban ecology of Manhattan and the outer boroughs. Using this research as a base map, we will choose sites which reflect regeneration through the layers of landscape history, examine cultural and economic dynamics, and propose models for urban sustainability. Dr. Sanderson has agreed to advise the Studio for Urban Projects and RJD in the creation of Urban Ecotones, and to gather a panel to council us in the final site selections. Other advisors could include urban and architectural historian and theorist David Gissen, the author of Subnature: Architecture?s Other Environment and the editor of Big and Green; Janine Benyus author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature; and others. Walking or biking tours of select sites with invited guest speakers could also accompany the exhibition. Printed materials with maps and essays will provide an interface between the exhibition and the city.


5000 sq ft

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new york, ny


Northern Lights and New York Hall of Science