This year celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Times Square Valentine Heart Design Competition. The annual event, wherein Times Square Arts welcomes architecture and design firms to submit proposals for a public art installation, celebrates love in Times Square through the month of February.
“On the 10th anniversary of the Times Square Valentine Heart competition, what better place to host the world’s largest lens than the Crossroads of the World—one of the most photographed places in the world and a hub for innovative technology and design,” said Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance.
This year’s winning design, Window to the Heart, was created by two collaborators, the design studio Aranda\Lasch and Brazilian artist Marcelo Coelho, curated by the Design Trust for Public Space. Unveiled on February 1 at Father Duffy Square, the artwork features the world’s largest lens—a Fresnel lens that measures 12 feet in diameter, designed with 3D-printing manufacturer Formlabs, held up by a structure engineered by Laufs Engineering Design.
“It’s remarkable how Aranda\Lasch + Marcelo Coelho’s Window to the Heart responded to this year’s broad theme of Labor of Love for the 2018 Valentine’s Heart competition. They created a rare optical experience that pushes the boundaries of technology, as well as draws on the hyper-stimulating atmosphere of Times Square. In a time when our love and empathy are tested every single day, we’ll now have a special window to share viewpoints and to see one another in a different light at the Crossroads of the World,” said Susan Chin, Executive Director of Design Trust for Public Space.
To learn more, we spoke with Coelho and Benjamin Aranda from Aranda\Lasch.
WW: What was your very first creation?
Coelho: I don’t remember, but most likely a drawing when I was still a baby or a toddler. We are all born artists and scientists, seeing the world anew everyday and naturally testing and decomposing it into its fundamental principles. Over time we specialize, take things for granted, and stop creating. I never did.
Aranda: Something embarrassing, I’m sure. I have a chair I made when I was 19 years old, it’s horribly uncomfortable but for some reason was built to last. It’s an interesting question though, the importance of the first time, and upon reflection I don’t consider “firsts” too significant. We are not inventors, we are designers that give physicality to things that are abstract. They may not be visible but that doesn’t mean they weren’t around before us. I like to think of our work as an extension of others, whether they be artists, scientists, nature, or anything else. Another step along the way.
WW: How has your practice evolved since?
Coelho: As both Head of Design at Formlabs and faculty at MIT’s new design program, I get to both create the tools that designers use while also introducing students to design for the very first time. This has forced me to reflect on the design process as a whole—what is at its core or how it differs from other creative practices—and most important what it means to design today and for the next 100-plus years. I try to capture some of these ideas and latent possibilities in the work I do today.
Aranda: Aranda\Lasch has evolved to make buildings, installations and furniture. We like the idea of practice as a fuzzy thing, like the way certain artists talk about their work as something bringing difference into the world. There has long been an implication that design and architecture is needed, and to some extent that’s true, but we are weary of the frivolity that emerges from these fields. Instead what is needed is to consider work that undermines our stable view of the world. This is what our practice is dedicated to.
WW: What are you most inspired by today?
Coelho: The impact of new technologies in design is really inspiring to me. Advances in 3D printing, sensors, materials, and AI for example are completely redefining what is possible in terms of geometry and behavior, while also making design more accessible, distributed, and customizable to people’s individual needs. These technologies will profoundly redefine how we perceive and relate to the physical world, and as designers we get to play a big role in shaping this future.
Aranda: Honestly, I find the constant obsession with happiness and simplicity dull and oppressive these days. I’m part of the generation raised to hate power, we don’t trust the TV, we are suspicious of brands, we think advertising is a lie. So we made the Internet to fix all of that, and in the last year, it all came down to take our hopes away from us. Now we are without reigns, we can’t steer things right. Our friends are getting kicked out of the country, our oceans are overflowing, it’s a total mess. This is what inspires me to work my ass off everyday.
WW: Tell us a bit about your newest creation, Window to the Heart. What does it mean?
Coelho: Window the Heart is a public sculpture in Times Square and the world’s largest 3D-printed Fresnel lens. It celebrates today’s media culture in one of the most photographed places in the world and what it means to see and be seen in the age of mobile phones and social media. Window to the Heart warps and focuses the lights of Times Square towards its center, revealing the mechanisms of seeing and creating a place for people to photograph others and themselves.
At the core of this work are the latest technologies in design, fabrication and a technical achievement that would not have been possible just a few years ago. Window to the Heart is built from about 1,000 3D-printed Fresnel tiles using Formlabs Clear Resin, which renders the optical properties required by a lens without the needs for the labor intensive polishing and processing traditionally associated with lens manufacturing.
Aranda: We’re a media obsessed culture, but a lot of people don’t give the lens enough credit. Behind every photo that you see is the lens that captured it. If Times Square is all about the world’s biggest screens, we thought it deserved the biggest lens.