The project will arrive in the Bronx and Staten Island later this year, but first is stillspotting Queens, which is more about listening than hearing. For its Transhistoria project, SO-IL has recruited 10 non-traditional writers with connections to Jackson Heights and paired them with six locales, from the domestic to the public: apartments, a Greek diner, a park bench and so forth.
“We wanted to find intimate spaces, domestic spaces, places you normally cannot access in the city, and places that would fit the stories, which we wanted to be about a transitory moment in someone’s life,” Mr. Idenburg said. “The idea is to find peace, home, stillness after this transitory moment.”
It was the Guggenheim that asked SO-IL to look at Queens, but the firm settled on Jackson Heights because they viewed it as a hyper version of all the city has to offer. “It’s very diverse demographically, culturally and historically, if you consider the building stock,“ Mr. Idenburg said. “It’s really more a place where people live next to one another than a literal melting pot; people with similar backgrounds stick together, so it is a place in which many different lives and cultures co-inhabit the city.”
“Because of this diversity and density it is one of the most busy areas,” he continued, “and therefore an interesting area to look for stillness – and great food.”
The task of finding the writers was more challenging. “There are so many diverse groups in Jackson Heights, and we did not want your average writers, either, but priests, rappers, poets, philosophers, etc.”
From canvasing the streets to working with local arts and community groups, the Guggenheim and SO-IL came up with an unusual and unusually varied cast of characters to relate their transitory stories. Among them are Father William Alan Briceland, chaplain of the Elmhurst Hospital; Premilla Nadasen, a writer and activist from South Africa teaching at Queens College; Ishle Yi Park, the poet laureate of Queens; and Ashok Kondabolu and Himanshu Suri, better known as two-thirds of the popular indie rap group Das Racist.
“It’s a really amazing group,” Mr. van der Leer said, “one we hope gives New Yorkers a new outlook on Jackson Heights and the city as a whole.
It would not be an architecture project without a few follies, but Mr. van der Leer said the idea was to keep things minimal and let the landscape speak for itself. As such, the architects created foam blue and white seats that will be used during the listening sessions.
For SO-IL, the process has been more meaningful than the product. “Editing is not a new idea to us, which we had to do in crafting these stories,” Mr. Idenburg said. “What was really new to us was the notion of curating. Normally, we edit our own work, but editing or curating others becomes a more complex activity.”
“Who is the creator?” he said. “Who is making the point?”
Why, the city, of course.