PUP + Exhibit Columbus // Washington Street Civic Project
Project Designers: Michael Bricker & Cy Bennett
Rendering of Jungle Subtraction.
“We have pretty much arrived at a ‘jungle’ wherein one sees everything at the same time he is seeing a blur of nothing.”
- Alexander Girard in Columbus, Alexandra Lange, quoting Girard
“Main Street is almost alright.”
- Robert Venturi, Learning From Las Vegas
Small town America is Main Street. But as Main Street ages, reinvents, and adapts, it tends to absorb layers of signage, amenities, and infrastructure. I like the ambition of these civic improvements, after all, they’re typically aimed at creating safer, brighter, and cleaner streets. Over time however, this architecture of addition can create a confusing sense of place, where, as Girard indicates, one sees a ‘blur of nothing.’
PUP’s installation for Exhibit Columbus explores an architecture of subtraction - a visual editing of the streetscape. It stems from one of my early explorations of Washington Street, where I felt like there was just too much stuff… mismatched planters, trash cans, benches, bike racks, parking signs, etc. We litter our streets with so much visual noise, that sometimes we miss the simple pleasure of walking under a tree or sitting alone to people-watch.
The resulting installation is admittedly a departure from much of PUP’s previous work, which centers on material salvage and responsible reuse. But we also operate in this abstract realm of civic nostalgia by repackaging and representing resources from the past for future use. Our Amtrak bags and IUPUI Redwood benches are recent examples of this transformation. For us, our Exhibit Columbus installation is about both community and progressive preservation, two core themes for this year’s Exhibit Columbus.
Girard's rendering of facade improvement for Washington Street.
In many ways, the resource we’re reusing is Alexander Girard’s 1962 facade improvement plan for Washington Street, which proposed new guidelines for signage, material, and color. He wanted to clean up the visual language of Main Street so that we could see it better. Our work is inspired by this spirit of editing of the streetscape itself. Girard had an opinion about what Main Street should and should not be. Today however, after numerous Washington Street improvements over the past several decades, including work by Paul Kennon, Cesar Pelli, and Koetter Kim, Washington Street feels blurry again.
Girard's color palette.
With PUP’s installation, we’re saying that Columbus’ conversations about the future of Washington Street should include editing, subtraction, and simplification. Our reflective panels are intended to ‘subtract’ some of the visual noise along the sidewalk. They start at chair height, and end at door height, ‘removing’ information along the eye line while preserving the canopy above. The color of the panels that face the street are pulled from Girard’s original plan. They serve as a reminder of the pallet of Columbus, and in their own way, reflect a bit of history back to the city itself.
We hope these elements challenge the citizens of Columbus to think about their streetscape. And as the city evolves, and inevitably adopts a new master plan, we hope there’s discussion about what can be edited out, what should be brought to the surface, and how Columbus can expand its architectural leadership to include the future of Main Street.
The exhibition opens this weekend and runs until December 1, 2019.
Installing Jungle Subtraction on Washington Street.
Exhibit Columbus is an annual exploration of architecture, art, design, and community that alternates between symposium and exhibition programming each year, and features the J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize. Exhibit Columbus is the flagship event of Landmark Columbus, a program of Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.
Landmark Columbus’ mission is to care for the design heritage of Columbus while using it as an example to inspire this and other communities to invest in the traditions and values that use design to make people and cities stronger.
About the 2018–19 Curatorial Theme
As a source of inspiration for the 2018-19 cycle of programming, Exhibit Columbus looked to the 1986 exhibition, Good Design in the Community: Columbus, Indiana. This exhibition was mounted by the National Building Museum when local businessman and philanthropist J. Irwin Miller became the first living American inducted into the Museum’s Hall of Fame. This award honored the Miller family’s legacy of servant leadership and the entire city’s commitment to making Columbus the best community of its size. When profiled by the Washington Post that year, Mr. Miller chose to emphasize the community’s involvement in building, rather than the architecture itself, as a source of his hometown pride, declaring “Architecture is something you can see. You can’t see a spirit or a temperament or a character, though, and there’s an invisible part of this community that I’m very proud of because, in a democracy, I think that the process is more important than the product.” Elaborating on the connection between the built environment and the intangible culture that Mr. Miller described, Exhibit Columbus is exploring what the notion of “good design in the community” means today.
About the 2019 Exhibition
The 2019 exhibition will expand on the curatorial theme in a tangible way by inviting architects and designers to create outdoor installations and experiences that use Columbus’ built heritage as inspiration and context, while highlighting the role that a visionary community plays in growing a vibrant, sustainable, and equitable city. In addition to the Washington Street Civic Projects, the 2019 exhibition includes the J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize, international leaders in their fields that bring unique perspectives in connecting people to place and community, and numerous other projects at varying scales – including the University Design Research Fellowships, which showcase current research by leading professors of architecture and design teaching at public institutions in America’s Heartland. The Columbus High School Design Team will also create an installation as part of its classwork in the Bartholomew County School Corporation’s C4 Program. The entire exhibition will be tied together with dynamic environmental design and a graphic identity by Chicago-based design firm Thirst. These 18 projects will activate public space downtown Columbus’ for more than three months in the fall of 2019.