John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Artist Mark Reigelman II says he will install the wee house throughout the year, “assuming I don’t get arrested or the cabin confiscated.”
Anyone who’s lived in New York has seen those orange-and-white tubes stuck like big straws into the street, drawing up steam from somewhere in the city’s boiling underbelly. While they’re staples of the landscape, their hunting-vest colors and utilitarian design leave out much in the beauty department—is there any way to give them a makeover?
Brooklyn artist Mark Reigelman II clearly thinks so, because he and a local carpenter have built a prettier, albeit stranger device to channel street steam. It’s a 6x8x8-foot replica of a cabin, made from plywood and maple and weighing about 350 pounds, and he and his friends are hauling it around town to plop atop manholes, where it pipes their vapors out of a quaint chimney.
About the project, titled “Smökers,” the 30s-something artist writes:
This cabin replaces the brightly colored plastic steam tubes that dot the New York landscape, allowing the byproduct of the city’s essential industrial process (steam provides power and heat to thousands of homes throughout the city) to be highlighted and subverted. Inspired by Reigelman’s childhood fascination and familiarity with small hand-made German objects (Räuchermann), the project seeks to imbricate the purpose of steam tubes, and insert the notion of whimsy and imagined narrative to the everyday. Räuchermann, also commonly referred to as ‘smokers,’ are simple wooden incense burners, often resembling cottages, animals, and chimney sweeps. The aesthetics of these common German objects references the orange and white candy-cane striping of these plastic steam tubes but more importantly, both objects have identical functionality and usage—to channel and release smoke—compounding the nuance of the work.
So far, Reigelman’s deployed the cabin in three places this year around central Manhattan, where in at least one instance it blocked two lanes of traffic. (See the great video above.) Given that it’s a completely illegal installation, the time it sits on the street has varied from 3 hours to 30 seconds. “It is my intention to install the cabin regularly throughout the year,” he emails, “assuming I don’t get arrested or the cabin confiscated.”