Flash Urbanism at New World Symphony

Flash Urbanism at New World Symphony
Flash Urbanism at New World Symphony
WALLCAST concert at New World Symphony

Miami Beach SoundScape is the most successful public space built in South Florida since the construction of the adjacent Lincoln Road Mall in the 1960s. Conceived as an anteroom and complement to the New World Symphony’s new concert hall, SoundScape includes an outdoor projection theater that brings indoor performances into the park at the corner of Washington Avenue and 17th Street. SoundScape is not a typical ornamental plaza in front of a monumental building; it is a genuinely public space that draws in a broad range of people to enjoy a multitude of activities. It is a gift to the city.

SoundScape’s genius lies in the way it functions at so many scales. Crowds and couples feel equally at home in this inviting landscape. The park can imbue hundreds of people with a sense of community just as elegantly as it accommodates an individual’s need for solitude. It is a place both intimate and immense.

Conceptually, Soundscape is wonderfully simple. The park is divided roughly into three areas, of which the most prominent is the long, elliptical lawn tilted gently toward the broad white wall of the New World Symphony. This space hosts nighttime projections of movies, concerts performed inside the building, and a site-specific video piece, Chronograph, created by artists Tal Rosner and C.E.B. Reas. Concrete paths of varying widths meander across the lawn and through several copses of trees, while low seating walls rise from, and settle back into, the gently undulating ground.

Actually, the term “park” is misleading here, since this is more of a landscape component that extends the building’s best aspects and helps disguise its less successful ones. The Dutch landscape architecture firm West 8 designed SoundScape as a verdant foil to the crisp geometry of the Frank Gehrydesigned building. SoundScape emphasizes the New World Symphony’s best feature – the way the lobby reads as a great cleft through the building – by framing it between groups of trees, and uses sculptural elements like bougainvilleadraped pergolas to echo Gehry’s ensemble of idiosyncratic architectural forms. The landscape helps the complex disguise the building’s anemic façade facing the Jackie Gleason Theater across 17th Street and achieves the paradoxical effect of anchoring the street corner with a dense mass of vegetation without obscuring the building from the street.

At the same time, the building doesn’t ignore motorists. It is a delight to drive by. And in a region where graffiti has emerged as an important mode of artistic expression, SoundScape’s projections add the New World Symphony to the category of walls made richer with ephemeral images by playfully evoking a drive-in movie theater.

Like the burgeoning phenomenon of food truck gatherings, the well-attended Wallcast events at SoundScape are moments of flash urbanism in a region craving the sense of community that comes with informal gatherings in public spaces. But whereas the food trucks temporarily transform empty lots into thriving piazzas, SoundScape represents a serious commitment by a local arts institution to generate sustainable urbanism in the motopolis. The remarkable affinity of exterior and interior at the New World Symphony makes the public spaces outside as important as the concert hall inside. If the park has a shortcoming, it is its underdeveloped connections to Lincoln Road Mall. But this can be corrected in time; for now, the New World Symphony and the City of Miami Beach are to be congratulated for producing a truly excellent place.

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