Big Sky in the Big City

Big Sky in the Big City

Construction sites may be “a reality of a healthy, growing city,” as New York City MayorMichael Bloomberg puts it, but not many people would call them anattractive reality. In an effort to put a better face on the mesh screens, fencing and scaffolding that seem to be everywhere in Manhattan, the city sponsored an open design contest to make these temporary structures “more exciting, attractive and informative.”Jen Magathan MFA 09 GD created one of four winning designs in the urbancanvas Design Competition, and in December 2010 saw her work unveiled on a grand scale.

“It’s obviously the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” Magathan says in a bit of an understatement.My Urban Sky, a modular collection of vignettes of blue and cloudy skies, stretches over a 100-foot construction fence and a 100-foot sidewalk shed at the City University of New York – Hunter College School of Social Work in East Harlem. “A road trip from Michigan to Virginia inspired me to bring the Midwestern sky to the urban context,” she explains, wanting to know “what it would feel like to walk down a crowded street and find yourself next to an open sky.”

New Yorkers found the idea very appealing: after a jury of artists, curators and city officials evaluated all the entries on the basis of artistic merit and adaptability, online voters choseMy Urban Sky to grace their sidewalks. The Rockefeller Foundation supported the competition, awarding each winner a $7,500 prize, while the installations themselves are funded privately by property owners. As her work was about to be unveiled, Magathan – who lives in Cambridge, MA, where she works at Tank Design Inc. – had yet to see it at full size in its urban context. But in anticipation of finally seeing her big Midwestern sky at street level in NYC, she concluded: “It all seems too good to be true.”

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Jen Magathan

urbancanvas Design Competition

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