Laura Genes’ Place-Making in the Hudson Valley

Beyond Utility: An Architectural Installation, 2017. Laura Serejo Genes.
ACT at MIT

ACT Graduate student Laura Genes was a PKG Center Public Service Fellow for the summer of 2017 and again during IAP 2018; she is extremely grateful for PKG’s continued support of her experimental and sometimes “far-out” projects.

“The lines between old and new, hand and digital, craft and trade, blur. Genes seems to be asking how Newburgh intends to use its past to perpetuate its development and its people forward, especially when the social structures baked into architectural forms have failed so many in the city’s past.”
Read the full article from Citylab here.

Laura spent the summer in New York’s Hudson Valley, working with the Newburgh Community Land Bank [NCLB] on a cultural initiative to commission and produce large-scale, site-specific art for their vacant lots, unoccupied properties and office spaces, during the summer of 2017. The purpose of this pilot place-making initiative was to use art as a means of raising awareness of the vacancy in Newburgh’s marginalized neighborhoods while encouraging investment in these under-utilized spaces of underserved communities. The NCLB is part of Governor Cuomo’s initiative founded to stimulate local planning, economic development and neighborhood revitalization by acquiring, managing and disposing of vacant, abandoned, and underutilized properties in a responsible manner. In an effort to improve the overall quality of life in Newburgh, NCLB collaborates with stakeholders, developers, and other governmental agencies. The goal of Laura’s work this summer was to make and produce arts events that brought attention to the types of collaborations that NCLB facilitates, while creating opportunities to discuss the current issues facing the community.

Supported by NCLB’s Artist-In-Vacancy Program, Laura approached RUPCO, a Hudson Valley Non-Profit Developer about creating an installation in a historical building they were converting into worker housing. She used the opportunity to collaborate with the workers onsite to highlight the labor happening in order to meet Historic Tax Credit requirements. The sculptures scattered around the site juxtapose old architectural details made by hand in the 19th century with new replicas, made with modern mechanical woodworking tools, primed and ready to be installed. Digital renderings of the architectural details were made to communicate preferences of juxtapositions to the craftsmen and collaboratively they were placed on the ground floor of the 39 Johnston Street, a building that had sat vacant for decades. The installation was free and open to the public.

In addition to hosting a public opening for site’s laborers and their families, as well as the local community and RUPCO staff; there was a lecture by architect, Andrew Linn of BLD.US to discuss the legacy of Newburgh’s most famous public figure,19th century architectural theorist and landscape designer, A.J. Downing. Andrew Linn’s feature essay was printed on broadsheets that were available for the taking, along with pieces of the original slate roof, generously donated by RUPCO.