Using Plywood From Local Businesses, “Love Letters” Celebrates Inclusivity and Collective Resilience
Artwork to Be Unveiled February 10 at 11AM in Times Square
(NEW YORK, NY — January 14, 2021) — Times Square Arts is pleased to announce that Soft-Firm’s Love Letters is the winner of this year’s annual Times Square Design Competition: Love in Our Times, curated by Reddymade and developed in consultation with worthless studios. Love Letters, which invites the public to participate in the installation by leaving their own love letters within the sculpture, will be unveiled at 11AM on February 10th, 2021 at Father Duffy Square, between 46th and 47th Streets. The installation will remain on view from February 10th to March 10th. Soft-Firm is represented by Lexi Tsien and Talitha Liu.
“We are thrilled to win the 13th annual Times Square Arts Design Competition during a year when love, solidarity, and justice have come into focus as essential for the health and resilience of our communities. Love Letters is at once an offering to the public in the beating heart of New York, and a repository for the wishes of its citizens and activists. The form of Love Letters is two interlocked hearts, creating a socially distant urban amphitheatre with four programmed chambers — the soapbox, loveseat, chapel, and wishing well. The materials — plywood, dichroic film, and safety net — speak to the process of construction and renewal. Using ribbons as an expression of love and unity, the public is invited to tie wish tokens on to the safety net, allowing the installation to transform over time,” said Soft-Firm’s Lexi Tsien and Talitha Liu.
For twelve years, Times Square Arts has hosted this design competition to celebrate the work of architecture and design firms and speak to themes of love during the month of February in Times Square. Now in its 13th year — in response to the unprecedented challenges our community has faced throughout 2020 — Times Square Arts and curatorial partner Reddymade have expanded the themes of this program to include broader notions of interdependence, collective resilience, and inclusivity. For the first time in this competition, Times Square Arts has introduced a material constraint that has become a jarring yet familiar visual symbol throughout 2020: plywood. Plywood has come to signal unrest and uncertainty throughout New York City as business districts here and across the country have boarded up their storefronts due to economic hardship brought on by the pandemic, anticipation of protest, or both.
“Love Letters represents the collective resilience of our city in the face of unending challenges, which we certainly couldn’t continue to confront without love and without one another. Soft-Firm has poetically transformed plywood — which has become a marker of fear and defensiveness across the landscape of our country — and repurposed it into something unexpected: a platform for creative expressions of love, inclusivity, and hope,” said Times Square Arts Director Jean Cooney.
Love Letters riffs off of the building facades of New York City, using plywood as a material of public engagement to mimic a scrolling storefront. The installation, designed to facilitate multiple levels of participation, winds throughout the heart of Times Square to create four integrated spaces in one folding surface, providing a public infrastructure at different scales, creating both adjacency and separation. Plywood panels are alternated with mirrored windows, allowing the surface to shift with the visual landscape of Times Square and create open views between spaces. The North-South elevation of the installation is sheared on a plane that reflects the incline of the TKTS booth below the Red Steps in the Square, creating a view corridor that ties together the bronze statues of Chaplain Francis P. Duffy and George M. Cohan. Safety net — a material sympathetic to the language of rebuilding — is interwoven within the plywood, serving as a poetic armature for an outdoor respite that is visually captivating. The structure features secluded seating sections at multiple levels, giving visitors a space for meditation and reflection, and the opportunity to view Times Square safely from different vantage points. From above, the installation forms the shape of two hearts.
Love Letters invites the public to participate in the installation by leaving their own love letters within the sculpture. Continuing the ancient custom of votive offerings — the ritual of tying a ribbon to a wishing tree, or a love lock to a bridge — visitors are invited to tie a wish, a memento, or an artifact onto the netted underlay, such as letters of protest, a letter to a lost loved one, or a message of appreciation to essential workers. The public can layer on their own meanings to the plywood storefront, each an author of the installation. Over time, Love Letters will become a memorial and a beacon: a symbol of solidarity and hope.
"Soft-Firm’s winning proposal for the 2021 Times Square design competition is a poetic exploration of the transformations that 2020 wrought on our understanding of our communities. Love Letters is a beautiful architectonic expression of the line dividing our private and communal selves, explored through the new significance that plywood as a material has acquired in our collective psyche,” said Suchi Reddy, Founder of Reddymade.
The 2021 Times Square Design Competition: Love in Our Times is presented by Times Square Arts in partnership with Reddymade, founded by award-winning architect Suchi Reddy, who was the winner of the 2019 Times Square Design Competition. This year’s material constraint of plywood was developed in collaboration with and inspired by worthless studios and their Plywood Projection Project. Fabrication consultation was provided by UAP Company.
This marks the 13th anniversary of the Times Square Design Competition, which invites architecture and design firms to submit proposals for a public art installation that celebrates and communicates love throughout the month of February. Situated in front of the Red Steps each year, the competition continues Times Square’s dedication to celebrating great design — a commitment exemplified by the Red Steps themselves, which have won multiple architecture awards.
Love Letters will be the centerpiece of activities on Valentine’s Day in Times Square, including safe and socially distanced weddings, surprise proposals, and a (mostly) virtual vow renewal ceremony featuring a few select couples joining in person. For more information or for those who wish to participate, they can visit: www.TSQ.org/Love.
ABOUT OUR PARTNERS
Times Square Arts
Times Square Arts, the public art program of the Times Square Alliance, collaborates with contemporary artists to experiment and engage with one of the world's most iconic urban places. Acting as a laboratory for contemporary art in the public realm — a place where ideas are tested, and new possibilities explored — we work with artists and cultural institutions to create dialogues with Times Square and all of its physical and mythological manifestations. Through the Square's electronic billboards, public plazas, vacant areas and popular venues, and the Alliance's own online landscape, Times Square Arts invites leading contemporary creators to help the public see Times Square in new ways. Times Square has always been a place of risk, innovation and creativity, and the Arts Program ensures these qualities remain central to the district's unique identity. Times Square Arts is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. TSq.org/Arts @TSqArts
Soft-Firm is an interdisciplinary practice and flexible platform off which to expand design hunches into architectural ideas, spaces, and artifacts. Soft-firm is speculative and concrete: taking a playful and lo-fi approach to visual perception, elemental forms, and material contrast. Using design as a tool of activism, Soft-Firm engages collaborative and progressive programs to promote equity in institutions and the architectural practice as a whole. The practice has designed interactive exhibitions and installations, residential and commercial projects, and published work in design magazines and academic journals. The Love Letters project team includes Lexi Tsien, Talitha Liu, and Tanvi Marina Rao with fabrication by Pink Sparrow, and contributions from Barry Cordage and Layr.
A leader in today’s global design culture, Reddymade was founded by Suchi Reddy in 2002. Since its inception, the firm has been lauded for its formal experimentation, its imaginative use of color, and passion for innovative materials. Based in New York, the firm’s practice spans the fields of architecture, design, installation art, and sculpture. Its diverse portfolio of projects includes public art installations, adaptive reuse of historic buildings, large-scale commercial spaces, and residential projects— from single family homes to micro-apartments and prefab architecture. rmdny.com
worthless studios has a mission to provide space, materials, technical assistance and resources for aspiring artists of all backgrounds to realize their artistic visions. Founded in 2016 by Neil Hamamoto and incorporated as a nonprofit in 2019, worthless studios is a platform committed to supporting artist’s fabrication needs and producing creatively engaging public art. Since its inception, worthless studios has produced two large scale public artworks and has supported artists in a number of different mediums including sculpture, painting, photography and performance. worthlessstudios.org
UAP is one of the world’s leading organizations in art and design consultancy, fabrication and manufacturing. Co-founded by brothers Matthew and Daniel Tobin in 1993, UAP was built upon a mission of extending the capabilities of creatives and collaborators to create objects, spaces and places that transform the world, inspiring and connecting others. UAP offers a range of skills, services, technologies and capabilities that span everything from strategy and concept creation, to design, production and on-site installation. With core skills in curatorship, design and construction, UAP works across all parts of the creative process: from commissioning, concept design and design development, to engineering, fabrication and delivery. UAP delivers bespoke creative works and solutions for the public and private realms. What began as a local family practice has since evolved into a dynamic global network with three key studios and workshops in New York (formerly Polich Tallix, a renowned foundry with a legacy that dates back to 1968) Brisbane and Shanghai, and satellite offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Shenzhen, Chengdu and Singapore. uapcompany.com
Senior Account Executive, Cultural Counsel
Account Coordinator, Cultural Counsel