Sunday, March 21, 2010


On my walk from office to home today, I felt compelled to document what we might call "spill." Different programs obviously differ on the inside, but they also "spill" differently: firehouses, parking garages, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, physic shops, and Italian ice purveyors all create unique social spaces when their private, interior programs spill out and intersect with the public life of the street. Bar spill, for example, usually takes the form of a designated smoking zone, where different people might come together who otherwise might not. Firehouses, as evidenced by the photographs below, create a friendly space of encounter for parents, their curious children, and the firefighters.

For the most part, spill is a good example of how a space can be made without architecture (since the space is really the product of the intersection of two programs). However, architectural accoutrements can sometimes exaggerate this intersection of private and public. As an example, consider the apartment canopy. In Celluloid Skyline, James Sanders analyzes a scene from the film Butterfield 8, in which a woman (Emily Liggett), exits a cab and journeys "from curbstone to doorway." Sanders writes that "this piece of sidewalk is already home. . . For a moment, two paths have crossed at right angles: the stream of public life running the length of the sidewalk and the short domestic path set perpendicular to it, from curbstone to doorway." As Sanders points out, it is the canopy alone that makes this crossing possible, "this place where a single plot of ground has two completely distinct meanings as different as home and city."

Spill is not a tool per se, and thus fits somewhat awkwardly in this lexicon of things that open and close the city. In any case, spill was especially evident today, a sunny Spring day that drew the entire neighborhood outdoors. Here are a few snapshots of the "spill" outside a few businesses I passed by this afternoon on Union Street between 5th and 7th Avenues, and then again on 7th Avenue between Union and Garfield.

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