Stillspotting in Lower Manhattan

On Saturday afternoon I went to check out the Guggenheim’s stillspotting project in Lower Manhattan. Entitled “To A Great City” it is a walking tour/multi-site installation created through a collaboration between composer Arvo Part and architecture/design firm Snohetta. Basically what they’ve done is created a series of installations exploring the relationship between sound and place. Part’s music is mostly meditative and ethereal, Snohetta’s installation consists of large white balloons either single or in groups that serve as place-making devices.

The tour begins at Castle Clinton in The Battery where you pick up your wristband and map. You then move directly north to the Labyrinth for Contemplation in The Battery, where you given an iPod Nano and you listen to Part’s “Silentium” – the second movement of his piece Tabula Rasa as you wend your way through the labyrinth. I don’t want to oversell it, the labyrinth is basically a circular path laid out in stone on the ground (more info here) but it is a calming, centering experience as you make your way to the large white balloon floating in the center.

From there – if you follow the recommended path – you continue out to Governors Island where there are two “stillspots”, one in the Matazine at Fort Jay, which is really cool and looks kind of like this:

with various chambers leading off of the main room. This one is actually free admission so if you just want to get a peek at the overall project and not spend the $10 for a ticket for the whole thing, you can check this one out.

The other stillspot on Governors Island is on the Southeast Bastion – which is less dramatic but has a nice view.

After you’ve finished with Governors Island you make your way back to Manhattan and up Broadway to the lobby of the Woolworth Building. If you’ve never been there, you should definitely check it out. It is an really beautiful and ornate work of architecture. You sit on the steps in the lobby – or stand – and they play a 20 minute composition. You don’t have to stay for the whole thing – I did about 10 minutes – but if you’ve never been there before you might want to linger longer. I worked in the Woolworth Building from 2000-2001 (until 9/11) and I never tired of the beautiful lobby and elevators and the views from the upper floors.

After the Woolworth Building you make your way over to 7 World Trade and up to the 46th floor. I’ve been to a few events on the upper floors at 7 World Trade over the years, but the views still never cease to amaze. Of all of the stillspots this is the most dramatic and breathtaking. Part’s two-piano composition “Hymn To A Great City” plays on a loop as you look either north or south out on the grandeur that is NYC and its environs. Here’s a really bad picture of the installation:

And here’s a bad picture of the view:

Because of the trip out to Governors Island the whole experience takes about 2.5-3 hours but it is a nice way to spend an afternoon and to check out Lower Manhattan, if you’ve never really been there before. I was a bit surprised that the installation itself was so simple. Snohetta is one of the world’s top architectural designers and I guess I was expecting something a litte more grand – but there is something elegant and meditative in the simplicity of the execution. And while I’ve heard of Arvo Part, I had never really listened to his music, so this was a good introduction.

This is the last weekend to take the To a Great City tour – which will run from Thursday to Sunday, September 22–25, 2011.

Hours of operation are 11 am–7 pm, with the last ticket pickup at 4 pm.

Starting location is the Castle Clinton National Monument which is located at 17 Battery Place.

One thought on “Stillspotting in Lower Manhattan”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.