Art in the Absence of Architecture?

Clean slate, tabula rasa, opportunity … How else might an architect describe an empty lot? Those ‘missing teeth’ in the façade of an urban landscape certainly have potential, but it’s not limited to the built form. Recently, I have been swept up in an initiative of the Arts Coalition of Asbury Park, for which I volunteer. We have a strong and respected arts community in Asbury Park, NJ – including a segment of the aerosol variety – and have begun to leverage this talent to enliven our cityscape.

Public art is a popular subject, and it’s not limited to Brooklyn, NY. Murals and sculpture and installations are popping up all over, in cities just like Asbury. There are at least three murals under review by the city, and there are many more on the horizon. These pieces are reactivating areas of the city, without any benches, planters or building permits. It seems like blasphemy – for an architect to campaign for such a thing – but an inviting space can be generated just by painting one of its walls.

Overnight activation should be a lesson to any designer. Sometimes all the bells and whistles are really just that. Sometimes, all you need is an object and the space is created. What was formerly an empty asphalt parking lot is now an event space. People now pause when walking along Main Street, to gaze at a wall that might otherwise be invisible. In a city with no shortages of empty lots and blank walls, I’m looking forward to the next work of art, at least until a building takes its place.