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Public art meets parking booths in city-wide art project

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The first bold booth, Coney Island, situated on East Main Street. Credit: Courtesy of Malcolm Cochran

The first bold booth, Coney Island, situated on East Main Street. Credit: Courtesy of Malcolm Cochran

Columbus residents have a new place to view art — parking lots.

The “Bold Booths” project features two Ohio State scholars — Malcolm Cochran, professor emeritus in the Department of Art, and Beth Blostein, associate professor in the Knowlton School of Architecture — who changed the design of parking booths into pieces of public art.

The “Bold Booths” project aims to combine public art with utilitarian functions, Cochran said.

“The intention of the project is to find high levels of design and thought in what are sometimes overlooked, mundane places in the city,” Blostein said in an email. “The lowly surface parking lot is such a place for investigation.”

According to the “Bold Booths” website, the first booth, named “Coney Island,” is situated at the parking lot of The Great Southern Theater at The Westin Hotel adjacent to East Main Street. The design of “Coney Island” and the design of the theater are respectfully complementary.

“‘Coney Island’ riffs on the geometry that makes the Southern Theater’s acoustically superior proscenium, a geometry made from conic sections,” Blostein said. “In the valet booth, conic volumes are intersected to perform in other ways: make interior space, bring in light and views and shed water into a rain garden.”

Cochran said four more booths are set to be built in the future, and he said he hopes one of them could be done at the end of the next year.

Each bold booth will have different designers as well as site and operational constraints, Blostein said.

Cochran said the space of each booth will be varied, but none of them will take up more than the space of a single parking space.

“The valet attendant booth is quite small to maximize parking space: only 55 square feet of interior space,” Blostein said. “But that small interior volume has all the inner-workings of the parking attendant intricately built into its form: key fob organization, work desk and stool, storage.”

Cochran said the budget for each booth without the architect’s fees is $30,000, which is about the same amount of money needed to build a traditional booth.

He also said the team only has enough money to do three more booths as of Thursday.

Compared to traditional valet booths, each bold booth provides a better working environment for parking attendants.

“What we found out is that some of these booths are so old that they don’t have adequate heating and air-conditioning, so they are in terrible working condition,” Cochran said. “It’s really important that we pay attention to the quality of the experience with the person who works there.”

With the unusual design, the material for these new booths is also different.

“The project merged digitally fabricated materials, like the 15-foot-high digitally milled interior (and) exterior form, with conventional materials, like the booth frame and its manufactured ocular windows.  The two techniques were necessary so that a complex geometrical form could be economically constructed,” Blostein said.

The Bold Booths project is part of Columbus Public Art 2012, an art movement that aims to create “memorable experiences for downtown workers, Columbus residents and visitors,” according to its website.

“When you see it, it’s very clear that something unusual and imaginative has been placed there. And I think it is an example of the fact that you can do something imaginative anywhere,” Cochran said.

Cochran said targeting uninteresting places for public art projects brings more interest than in a beautiful place, such as a park in downtown Columbus.

“By approaching something that is usually considered not worth paying attention to, (such as) a booth for a parking lot attendant to work in, and by giving it attention and creative energy, you transform that architectural object, and it functions on lots of levels,” he said. “I don’t mean just art or architecture; it is possible to do creative and interesting things even in uninteresting places.”

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