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Gateways to Chinatown

Time and Orientation With its shifting street grids and dense urban fabric blocking out the sun, Lower Manhattan is a place where one can easily lose a sense of orientation and time. Our design for the new information kiosk in the transformed mini-park takes the City’s stated wayfinding program in a literal sense and wraps it in powerful imagery and form harkening to Chinese tradition. The Portal Wall with the Inner Sanctum Not unlike the Great Wall of China, the proposed new Portal Wall is formed by two curving parallel facades with a circulation path along its main axis along Canal Street, and a portal/gateway perpendicular to it at grade. As the Great Wall provides shelter, the space between the freestanding wall elements and within the gateway provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of the adjacent streets and sidewalks. Like the gateways in the Great Wall, which provide physical access through the wall, the gateway in our design provides access to information about the City for tourists and residents. The inner wall surfaces provide an armature for the placement of digital information kiosks, and a traditional analog Chinese Compass set in the pavement allows pedestrians to orientate themselves to the Cardinal Points. The Metal Dragon Springs to Life The Portal Wall is made of metal, the fourth phase of the Chinese philosophy of Wu Xing. In Chinese Taoist thought, metal attributes are considered to be firmness, courage, persistence, strength, and determination. The “metal” person, not unlike an inhabitant of Chinatown, is also strong-willed, wise, business-oriented and ambitious. Just as metal can conduct electricity, the “metal” person has strong impulses and can bring about changes. In Chinese astrology, metal is included in the 10 heavenly stems (the five elements in their yin and yang forms), which combine with the 12 Earthly Branches (or Chinese signs of the zodiac), to form the 60-year cycle. The two parallel metal plates that make up the Portal Wall split apart as the Chinese Zodiac Dragon springs to life unraveling from the southwest to the northwest, the direction of good luck on a Feng Shui (Luo Pan) Compass, like the inner workings of a Rolex watch or the Long Now Foundation’s 10,000-Year Clock, some of which are replicated here to create the Dragon’s head. One of the first things newcomers will notice is that the red needle on the compass’s “wheel of graphs”, centered beneath the Wall Portal, points South (in the direction to Chinatown) and not North (in the direction to Little Italy), which is correct for Feng Shui Compasses. A Beacon of Light through a Hole in the Earth Urban legend has it, that if a New Yorker digs a hole in the earth too deep, they’ll end up in China. At night, the daylight ‘from the other side of the world’ will shine up through the center of the Compass, between the elements of the Portal Wall. This beacon of light will provide both visitors and residents of NYC with another wayfinding device, and hopefully remind them of their connection to the rest of the world.

Client / Owner

Project Facts

NYC Department of Transportation (DOT)

Project Location

New York City, NY

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