John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A Dutch artist created illegal but highly luxurious street signs, a leather-padded bench and a walnut garbage can.
Dutch artist Joost Goudriaan thinks that Rotterdam's urban infrastructure could use a little sprucing up. So using luxury materials like leather, walnut, and gold, he built a line of street furniture that's fit for a king.
Goudriaan, who also dreamed up this delightful chair for hyperactive children, deployed some of his exquisitely crafted creations in 2010 and during last year's De Wereld van Witte de With, a perennial arts festival in the Netherlands. (Perhaps the artist should team up with this guy, who is making beds in public for this year's fest?) Everyday commuters all of a sudden were treated to streets that scanned like the inside of an elite cigar bar, with pavement tiles made from antique wood and gleaming bollards of porcelain. New pedestrian signs of oiled wood sprouted from the sidewalks. A sewer grate gleamed with a coating of precious metal.
The artist explained the eyebrow-raising project, titled "Foolproof and 'Public Space,'" this way:
The public space in Rotterdam is loaded with objects, functional yet often unnoticed. The city of Rotterdam, always seeming to be desperately seeking her new "heart", supplies her many excavations with street furniture without thinking about the charisma of the street level. The sky seems to be the limit, and the eye level remains forgotten.
For this project in public space I tried to explore possibilities for the 'Lovable City", master some crafts and remake foolproof street furniture, using the original industrial designs, to investigate whether the love I've put into these objects would come out, and even might originate love for them. So fuck foolproof, let's see what will happen to these carefully crafted, vulnerable, upgraded and recreated, illegally placed objects...
While you'd think, perhaps, that the public would welcome this taste of the high life, it so happens that most of Goudriaan's furniture was soon destroyed. This leather-padded sign had its wooden pole ripped up during its inaugural day, for instance. And the gold on his sewer grate was either chipped away or worn off by the feet of pedestrians trudging on it. Fortunately, photos survive that illustrate what a charming artistic intervention this was. Perhaps some wealthy city like Palm Beach or Bloomfield Hills could get their public-works department behind this concept, for real?
"Chesterfield Parkbench," made from leather and walnut:
"Traffic Sign No. 2," made from wood, 24-carat gold leaf, silk, a gold-painted plastic tie and antique wax:
"Antique Walnut Litter Bin":
A gilded sewer grate near Eendrachtsplein, which is not the internal organ it sounds like but a subway station in the heart of the city:
Photos courtesy of the artist and Pim Top.