Mark Lamster | Essays

Beauty from Junk: The Floating Genius of Harvest Dome

Even when we were kids growing up in New York City, Alex Levi had a rather quirky sense of the city and its aquatic spaces. One summer we took a film class at NYU, and Alex made a comic short about a monster who lived at the bottom of the Conservatory Water (better known as Boat Pond), in Central Park. All these years later, more than I'd care to admit, Alex is still bringing his unique creative vision and energy to New York's waterways, but now with Amanda Schachter, his wife and partner in the firm SLO Architecture

Last October, the two launched, or tried to launch, the Harvest Dome, an orb twenty-four feet in diameter constructed from used plastic soda bottles and trashed umbrella frames. With the students and volunteers who built it with them, they planned to float this spiderlike structure up the East River toward Inwood Hill Park in northern Manhattan, where it was to come to rest in a small inlet more popular with waterfowl than people. There it was to remain as an advertisement for the park and its natural riches, a statement about waste and reuse, and a whimsically beautiful object — Bucky Fuller meets Theo Jansen meets Samuel Mockbee. Alas, the thing got itself caught in the notorious currents of the New York estuary, and wound up beached on Riker's Island, the least likely escape vehicle in the history of escape vehicles. Still, the farsighted visionaries of the Corrections Department took it upon themselves to destroy it. (The absurdity of this episode, I should note, is right out of the Alex Levi playbook of yesteryear.)

That was the end of the first Harvest Dome, but not of this endeavor. Alex and Amanda are now at work on Harvest Dome 2.0, which they hope to have installed in Inwood Hill Park this summer. I encourage you to read more about the project on their website, or watch their video on Kickstarter — and then throw in a few bucks to help make it happen. It's a wonderful project, something that is not quite architecture and not quite art, or maybe a little of both, but in either case something of value that comes with the ancillary benefit of making you feel better about the world.

A few images:

Harvest Dome 1.0, under construction

Inwood Hll Park, at Manhattan's northern tip. The dome will sit in the tear-drop inlet to the east of the Henry Hudson Parkway. 

Harvest Dome 1.0, beached on Rikers Island. 

Harvest Dome 1.0, oculus

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