LES BID Selects “Babel Blocks” For Delancey History Fence

Architectural rendering; Babel Blocks installation long Delancey Street. Courtesy: Boym Partners.
Rendering: "Babel Blocks Delancey Street proposal. Image for illustrative purposes only.
Rendering: “Babel Blocks” Delancey Street proposal. Image for illustrative purposes only.

Several months ago, we told you about a design competition from the Lower East Side BID for a Delancey Street History Fence.   Through a 400 foot art installation, the organization, which operates two parking lots along the busy thoroughfare, was looking to pay tribute to the neighborhood’s diverse cultural legacy.   The BID has now made its choice.

A selection committee recently notified the LES-based design firm, Boym Partners, that its proposal for a “Babel Blocks Fence,” celebrating the varied “races, religions and cultures” that make up the Lower East Side,” had won the competition.  Babel Blocks, a series of wood figures, were created by Constantin Boym and Laurene Leon Boym in 2007, loosely based on their Lower East Side neighbors.  They were included in “Design & the Elastic Mind,” an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and won the National Design Award in 2009.

In their proposal, the Boyms said the new iteration of their acclaimed project would be a “modern take” on “It’s a Small World,” the Disney amusement ride (Laurene has vivid memories from a childhood trip to Disneyland in which she marveled at all of the multi-cultural characters represented).  They intend to create a “billboard frieze” using “a wrap of repeating oversized photos of our neighborhood characters… on a crisp white background via digital printing.”  The Boyms stated that the images would create a “striking contrast to the towers behind the fence… (and send) a positive message about the surrounding communities’ incredible diversity – historically as well as today.”

Last year the LES BID was awarded a five-year contact to manage the new Delancey Plaza, a pedestrian area adjacent to the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Site.  The city expects to select developers for the 1.65 million square foot project, in September.  The site, which includes the BID’s parking lots, will be a construction zone for years to come.  Natalie Raben, who’s coordinating the art project for the BID, said the organization received a lot of great proposals and choosing a winner was not an easy task.  The selection committee included Orchard Street gallery owner Lesley Heller,  Low Line co-founder Dan Barasch, David Crane of Community Board 3 and Jan Hanvik of Clemente Cultural Velez Cultural Center.  The plan is to unveil the installation sometime before the end of the summer.

In a phone interview yesterday, Laurene Boym said she and Constantin were thrilled to have been chosen. “We take a lot of pride in our neighborhood. It’s exciting to be able to give back to the Lower East Side.”   Boym said they have been walking past the desolate SPURA parcels every day during  the two decades they’ve been living on the LES.  Now the Boyms have the opportunity to bring a project with strong neighborhood roots back to the place where the idea was born.  They have created several new characters for the installation. You can have a look at them in the slide show posted here:

The BID and the Boyms say they’ll be working with the community to decide what form the final project will take. In the meantime, you might want to go see “Babel Blocks” in person at MOMA.  Four years ago, the toys and accompanying animated films were accepted into the museum’s collection of Architecture and Design.  They’re on display in the third floor galleries within an exhibition called “Applied Design.”