Meet a NYFA Artist: Brett Snyder

Meet a NYFA Artist: Brett Snyder

NYFA speaks with 2008 Architecture/Environmental Structures Fellow Brett Snyder

NYFA: Hi Brett, please tell us what you’re working on and what’s coming up for you.

BS: My partner and I are working on a collaborative public art project called Museum of the Phantom City. The project uses personal digital devices to transform New York City into a living museum of architecture.

The project got its impetus from two observations: First, building plaques around the city often contain interesting information, but it gets lost amid the barrage of ads and other information that surrounds us. Second, most people these days carry a cell phone. Currently 200 million people in the US have a cell phone or other PDA. These devices undoubtedly have already changed the way we navigate the city, and will continue to do so. Yet we felt the experiential and artistic possibilities of these new technologies was still untapped.

Our current project takes the form of an iPhone app and accompanying website that not only reveal hidden stories behind buildings, but also allow the public to contribute to a living archive. The first exhibition of the Museum of the Phantom City is “Other Futures.” It allows visitors to see, and to rate, past and current alternative visions for New York, such as Buckminster Fuller’s Dome Over Midtown Manhattan or Superstudio’s Continuous Monument. The public launch for the project is on October 3rd. You can download the app Museum of the Phantom City from the iTunes store.

NYFA: Who or what is your biggest influence or inspiration right now?

BS: Our practice is inspired both by many fields including architecture, art, graphic, industrial, and interactive design. We’re inspired by historical artists and inventors such as Buckminster Fuller who worked at the intersection between disciplines. We are also big fans of contemporary artists such as Natalie Jeremijenko and Ai Weiwei who address issues of space, material, technology and politics in their work.

NYFA: How do you start on a project?

BS: Many of our projects begin with a simple question. Museum of the Phantom City began with “Shouldn’t there be a new type of building plaque?” We view every project as an opportunity for invention, whether we are coming up with a new technique or finding a new application for an old technology.

We see client-driven projects as sites for experimentation too. Sometimes the smallest projects require the most invention. The writing studios we designed in Maine, both of which were each under 200 sq. ft., forced us to combine many programs into a tight space, including writing, sleeping, and storage. We strategically overlapped and interlocked these functions, and used passive heating / cooling techniques to improve the quality of the spaces.

NYFA: Tell us your most memorable art experience growing up.

BS: One of my favorite places as a child was the Children’s Museum in Boston. One exhibition I remember clearly is a house with its walls peeled away to expose its inner workings. Not only could one peer into the walls, but the floor was eroded in places, allowing one to crawl into a manhole and see the sewer system from below. It was an amazing experience for a child to be able to view the world from multiple angles and to see how things were connected. The exhibition tapped into my senses but also into my imagination, transforming the everyday world around me. I remember not wanting to leave!

NYFA: What is the perfect lunch?

BS: Banh mi—a Vietnamese sandwich—from the place under the Manhattan Bridge. At $3, it’s the perfect meal for starving artists and architects!

NYFA: What role has the Fellowship played in your life?

BS: We’ve had many ideas brewing about the overlap of architecture, graphics, and technology – and the Fellowship gave us the space to begin realizing projects at this intersection. We were able to ask such questions as “How is the experience of urban public space transformed by new technologies?”

For more information on Brett Snyder, visit his website.

Museum of the Phantom City Project Launch October 3rd (Rain Date: October 4th)

Amy Aronoff
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