Jeanne Kelly

Assignment 5: Instruction Sets for Strangers: Learning Bryant Park

In Collage, Fall 09 Archive, Major Studio Interface on October 20, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Fall 2009, Bryant Park
Umut Ozover and Jeanne Kelly

Identify a space and group to work with.

Umut and myself chose Bryant Park pretty easily. Bryant Park is situated behind the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan, between 40th and 42nd Streets & Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  We both had a preference to that park to start with so we decided that could be part of our exploration.

For myself, what attracts me most to Bryant Park is its contrast to its surroundings; it’s location.  The entire Western half of the park is the New York City Public Library (Who ya gonna call?) and across West 42nd street is Kinokuniya, one of my favorite bookstores.  There are lots of shops, places to eat and things to do and see all around the park.  Which makes wandering into this green-canopied little community a welcome escape. There is a place to eat in every corner and the prices range from a rather expensive full course dinner to an affordable bagel and coffee.  There is plenty of seating.  Sometimes too much, the chairs left after a concert can become a maze to negotiate.  (This led to many ideas before we where told the chairs were removed the next day.)  The park is clean and well maintained and has one of the cleanest and well-run public restrooms in the city, imho.

“Among the amenities available to visitors are a French-style carousel, a boule board, chess tables, extensive gardens and seasonal planting displays, the Bryant Park Grill, and free wireless access, as well as 2,000 moveable chairs for pausing to take in the sights.

The Park also maintains a great web presence.  They are on Facebook, Twitter, Flicker, YouTube and they have their own Blog. They even have a Webcam, but it not been up much due to weather.  Their website is quite well designed and organized for the amount of information they provide.  Everything you could want to know about the park (except maybe the pedestrian traffic patterns 🙂 can be found on Here are some noteworthy fact gleaned from all over the site:

  • At The Southwest Porch, power outlets are available to keep all of your devices going, your laptop, iPod, or cell phone.
  • Bryant Park’s Lawn is as long as a football field (300 feet) and 215 feet wide.
  • There are 84 miles of book shelves in a 2 story vault directly beneath the lawn and a conveyer belt that carries the book to the library
  • The Bryant Park bathroom was awarded the title of “best in America” by Citysearch users in 2002
  • Bryant Park is a WiFi “Hot Spot,” bringing the internet free to users of laptops and handheld devices with 802.11b and 802.11g Ethernet cards.
  • At night, thirteen 1,000 watt lights shine down on Bryant Park from the Verizon building.
  • As a New Yorker, none of your tax money goes to Bryant Park. The Park is entirely financed by private money: you get it for free.
  • The original Reading Room began in August of 1935 as a public response to the Depression Era job losses in New York.
  • The Fifth Avenue terrace in front of the New York Public Library is part of Bryant Park.
  • As far back as 1686, New York’s colonial governor Thomas Dongan designated as public property the land that is now Bryant Park.
  • The Rockefeller Brothers created the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation (BPRC)
  • In 1853-54, New York’s first “world’s fair,” the Crystal Palace Exhibition, took place on the site of Bryant Park. Seventeen-year-old Samuel Langhorne Clemens (later to be known as Mark Twain) visited the Crystal Palace Exhibition. He wrote that the Crystal Palace was “beautiful beyond description.”
  • Today’s version of Bryant Park—with its gravel paths, green chairs, and jaunty le carrousel—is a recent invention. Though the space has been called Bryant Park since 1842, the park has had a checkered career. By 1979, it was the site of frequent muggings and drug deals and was avoided by knowledgeable New Yorkers. An almost ten-year effort, begun in 1980, transformed the park and its reputation.
  • As the only large-scale public park in midtown Manhattan, Bryant Park is a much sought-after location for concerts, performances, product launches, and many other types of public and private events. With its seasonal plantings, neo-classical sculptures and structures, gravel promenades, and—of course—its elegant slatted chairs, the park offers New Yorkers a uniquely European-feeling outdoor space.
  • The Bryant Park Corporation (BPC), a non-profit organization, carefully considers proposals for events in the park in light of their potential to support this commitment.
  • Six flower beds border Bryant Park’s Lawn to the north and south—two on the shady South side and three on the sunny North. They are planted seasonally with 100 species of woody shrubs and herbaceous perennials and 20,000 bulbs.
  • Along the Northern and Southern sides of the park are twin promenades bordered by London plane trees. This is the same species found at the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris, and contributes a great deal to Bryant Park’s European feel. These trees can grow up to 120 feet in height.

Here is a link to a great page about the surrounding architecture.
Here is a link to a great page about the monuments within the park.
Here is a link to the early history of the park.

Outside has not seemed the place to be lately.  The weather is awful and the park is in a transition from their summer season to their winter season.  In winter the convert the field into ‘The Pond’, an ice-skating rink, and host artist and venders in the The Holiday Shops.  But until then, the park seems to have slowed down.  When I went Sunday morning I thought there would be a small church crowd, but the wind, rain and cold might have kept them away.

Here are the photographs we have taken:

What are the instruction sets that already exist in that space?
How can those instruction sets be changed or modified?

Here are the posted ‘textural’ rules for Bryant Park:

Rules and Regulations

You are welcome
to visit the park during the hours posted
to use open areas, including the lawn
to enjoy the gardens without entering flowerbeds or picking flowers
to use a park chair or one seat on a bench designed for sharing
to deposit waste in trash receptacles
to bring your dog, providing you leash it, keep it from watering trees and plants, and clean up after it

Park guidelines prohibit…
entering the park after the hours posted
drug use
alcohol use outside the Grill and Cafe
organized ballgames
sitting or standing on ballustrades
entering the fountain
feeding pigeons
rummaging in trash receptacles
amplified music that disturbs others
performances, except by permit
commercial activity, except by permit
obstructing park entrances
dogs on the lawn
use of plastic tarps on the lawn

Patrons of Bryant Park are subject to the rules of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

Umut and I thought of using the parks many amenities in different ways.  We took note of what some of the affordances and different instruction set for each of the amenities and then thought of how those might be changed to enhance the park:

  • the fountain: the wall is a comfortable sitting height, but the fountain is off and empty.  Unattractive and looks broken.  We could fill it with something else – pumpkins? flowers? fall leaves!?  Or cover it a light parachute material and light it from underneath and put on a shadow puppet show?
  • the carousel: well guarded, there are mirrors on the trees so the attendants can see the children from every angle. There are walkways and paths that lead to the ticket booth and then into the gated area of the carousel.  There is music constantly playing.  We thought about taking Polaroid’s to giving them to the kids or creating a challenge for them to get to the carousel.  We thought about painting a path or running a carpet from the street to the carousel.  We also considered the implications of changing the music.  What if we could get more “grown-ups” on the carousel?
  • petanque, ping-pong and chess tables: The board games can be played for a small fee to rent the equipment, but the ping-pong paddles and balls are provided free of charge. You just sign up with an attendant in the park to reserve a time slot. The ground games require you to bring your own equipment, but there is no fee to use the court. Free petanque lessons are given by La Boule New Yorkaise:
Monday – Friday from 11:30 am – 6:00pm, weather permitting. And free chess lessons given by the Midtown Backgammon and Chess
Monday – Friday from 3:00–4:00pm, Sunday 12:00–1:00pm, weather permitting There are signs that explain how to sign up, how to play and what the rules of the games are.  There are also paths worn around the “ring” of the ground games where it looks like you can stand and watch (that’s what we did.)  There are benches on the side, but it looks like that’s where the people who are waiting to play are hanging out. How can we make the game even more accessible?  We could make the games viewable from other angles in a comfortable way.  We could also introduce our own game on the lawn. Embed a circle in the ground for a marker line? Make measuring tapes available?
  • a reading ‘room’: Several book stalls hold a range of books in a medium sized area.  It seems as though you can walk in, grab a book and sit and read.  On the first day Umut and I went to the park, HSBC was adjacent to the reading room giving out free hot tea and cookies.  They were promoting their bank that day and had also hired a jazz band to play.  They had attracted quite a crowd.  When I was there early Sunday morning there was no reading room set up yet, so I guess the books are stored nearby.  The reading room also has an area just for newspapers.  There are several racks to hold over 30 different kinds of newspapers.  These are slipped onto slated reading polls, which are hung from the racks.  This keeps them neat and in order and makes it easier to read on breezier days. The programming, publications, and environment of the Reading Room are available to everyone for free, without any need of cards or identification. Arrange a drop of box for donations?  In was in this area that we thought about adding cushions to the seats.  Here is where people might want to sit for longer then the average stay.  We could put cushions on the seats just outside the reading room and around the inside fence, to decongest the inside area, allowing better access to the bookselves, and improve the stay of the readers.  But would people choice the cushioned seat over the non-cushioned?
  • extensive open field and 2,000 moveable chairs: this is where we had the most fun maybe.  The field has no barriers to entrance.  It can be cut across in any fashion now.  When we first went to the park the field was littered with chairs and a few tables.  You had to navigate you way through them in order to cross the field.  Every time I have been to the park there are not many people in the field and when they are they are usually just cutting across.  The first day we did see a few business meetings, rendezvous, mothers with children, but no one really just hanging out in the field.  We thought of building a maze or labyrinth with the chairs, from one side of the field to the other.  We also considered building a sculpture with them in the center of the field to draw people into the field.

(You can download the audio tour with Matthew Broderick through iTunes.)

Here is some of the video we have taken so far:

Umut feeds the birds

After everything, we considered what was lacking in our personal experience of the park – in our own terms.  Not how it relates to what is there but to what is not.  Instead of changing an instruction set that already exist for an activity, location, group or object within Bryant Park, we simply asked ourselves “What would we like to be different right now.”  The idea being that there should logically be a few people who have similar reactions out of the millions that visit the park.  Here are most of our answers to that question in neat list:

a blanket
heat lamps or space heaters
a dry table
a dry seat
something to block the wind
something in the fountain
a cushion on the seat
something to feed the birds
animals to pet
brighter colors
ramps on the steps (a lady with a stroller was struggling up the steps)
somewhere to put my feet up
a conga line
redirect the heat form the subway
put candles in the cup holders
move all the tables to the center of the lawn
change the light that shines on the park at night

So this is where we are at now.  We are playing with the idea of giving people the opportunity to feed the birds.  Umut took some video of feeding them to see what would happen.  It’s very nice.  We could do something as simple as a large barrel of seed with a scoop and some brown paper bags.  People could take the birdseed over to their favorite spot and feed the finches and pigeons.  This time of year is particularly hard on birds.  Food is scarce and so is water.  So we would not only be adding a pleasant experience to for the visitor but also for the wildlife.  We could use washable paint to stencil ‘bird feet’ prints around the park that led people to the barrel(s).  We could but it over by the carrousel so the children could enjoy it more readily as well.

  1. wouldn’t the birds and squirrels just flock to the barrel it self?

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