Bold Booths Brings Art to Unexpected Places

By Melinda Cassidy

Bold Booths, a collaboration between Ohio State, Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District and leading professional designers, was originally a project of Finding Time: Columbus Public Art 2012, a program to install multiple public art displays across the downtown cityscape during Columbus' bicentennial. Five Columbus architects were commissioned to design parking attendant booths or stations for self-pay parking in downtown. Time and money constraints meant that only the designs were executed that year, but Malcolm Cochran, Finding Time project director and professor emeritus of Art, and Cleve Ricksecker, executive director of Capital Crossroads SID, pushed forward with the project, and its first booth will be completed this fall.

Artist's rendering of the Coney Island boothColumbus residents can experience Short North's Gallery Hop on the first Saturday of every month, but soon they'll be able to interpret art every day of the week by simply driving through downtown.

Through a project titled Bold Booths, a handful of Columbus' more banal buildings - five parking attendant booths - will be replaced with one-of-a-kind structures that will be unexpected yet practical pieces of public art.

"There are a lot of conventions of public art, like murals and sculptures on plazas in front of buildings, but this is more unusual," said Malcolm Cochran, curator of the project, professor emeritus of Art, and a local sculptor whose work appears in Dublin and Goodale Park. "On all levels, these will be unique structures in terms of their locations, their functions and what they do for the occupants."

Cochran said a main component of the series is to instill just as much of a sense of pride and ownership in their occupants as they do in their observers.

"In our culture, someone who manages the parking attendant booth is not very high up on the totem pole ... so I think it's pertinent that these people will be housed in really interesting micro buildings," he said. "Somebody working there will have pride of ownership of working in a custom-designed work environment, and that speaks volumes for the people manning these booths."

The idea of Bold Booths first came to Cochran after a colleague commented on the state of surface parking lots during a walking tour of downtown as plans were being drawn up for Finding Time. Wanting to do more than simply paint the booths, but also maintain functionality, Cochran decided to recruit architects.

Together Cochran and Dow Kimbrell, curatorial assistant of Finding Time, found five interested architects and architectural teams and partnered with the SID to identify parking lot owners interested in having their attendant booths revamped. The architects ranged from those with established firms to younger designers launching their practices.

But then snags appeared in the fabric of the plan.

Initially, the booths were planned as temporary, but Cochran and his team realized the higher feasibility of permanent booths and opted for structures with 10-year lifespans.
The team also ran into financial issues. The project was first budgeted at $15,000 per booth, Cochran said, but the architects found it too difficult to design functional structures with heating and cooling within these financial limits.

After a $60,000 Engagement Impact Grant from Ohio State's Office of Outreach and Engagement and additional funding from participating parking lot owners, budgets doubled to $30,000 per booth.

With the plan smoothed out, the first booth, titled Coney Island, will open in October.

The First Booth

Artist's rendering of the Coney Island Booth

Designed by Beth Blostein, associate professor of Architecture, and her partner Bart Overly, the booth will be located in the parking lot of the Westin Columbus – Great Southern Hotel at the corner of South High and East Main streets.

Neither architect had ever designed such a small-scale building, but both accepted the challenge, drawing inspiration from the neighboring Southern Theater.

"At the time the theater was built it was renowned for its superior acoustics, which has to do with the geometries of conic sections," Blostein said. "So we used the idea of conic sections to generate the form of the booth."

But design wasn't the only hurdle to overcome, as the pair opted for unconventional building materials such as foam that must be fabricated at various locations and then united to form a solid structure.

For this booth in particular, the devil is in these exact details.

"(The materials) need to fit together perfectly within a very complex three-dimensional geometry," Overly said. "It is definitely a project having some 'NASA tolerance' moments, and for a small physical thing there are a lot of intricate details involved."

However, with the assistance of MCR Services, a Columbus-based general contractor who is donating services, the team was able to work through the more troublesome construction moments.

"They have been invaluable in thinking through and resolving the project's unusual design and construction issues," Blostein said.

Although their redesign hasn't been a leisurely trip to the Gallery Hop, Overly said he hopes the new booths do more than give residents something at which to gaze.

"If nothing more, (I hope people get) a more acute awareness about the thoughtful design potential of the places in the city we have somehow accepted as the utilitarian leftovers," he said. "A well-designed city considers all of its parts and doesn't accept complacency."

But even if this value is lost on some, Cochran said the value of the booths as public art is priceless.

"Public art is a way of interrupting the day to day and pointing to something bigger whether it's beauty, history, novelty, something that challenges us to think," Cochran said. "It can be a disruption - and I mean that in the best sense - like a breather. A breather that you don't have to seek out."

Up Next

The second booth, designed by Mike Baumberger of BA Workshop, will be located in the Eckl Parking Company lot on the corner of North High and West Long streets and will be completed by spring. Confirmed locations for the other booths are not yet available, but Cochran said he hopes to have the series completely constructed by the end of 2015.

For those interested in seeing scale models of all six designs - one is concept-only and will not be built - an exhibition titled DRIVEbys will be held from 5-8 p.m. on Oct. 2 at the Columbus Idea Foundry, located at 421 E. State St. The event is free and open to all.

View a flyer with more information on DRIVEbys.

For more information contact:

Beth Blostein, blostein.3@osu.edu