New installation offers passersby a kaleidoscope view of Flatiron

“Nova,” a new installation at the Flatiron Pedestrian Plaza, as viewed from the inside of the structure (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

“Nova,” a new installation at the Flatiron Pedestrian Plaza, as viewed from the inside of the structure (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A new interactive art installation on the Flatiron’s north public plaza debuted last Wednesday evening, kicking off the holiday festivities in the neighborhood.

“Nova” by SOFTlab was the winning submission in the second annual Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition, held by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership Business Improvement District (BID) and Van Alen Institute, that called for proposals from design firms for a temporary holiday installation.

SOFTlab, which also happens to be a local firm located on West 27th Street directly north, worked with materials from 3M to create the crystalline installation that acts as a sort of observatory for historical sites in the neighborhood. Viewing scopes positioned in different directions allow passerby to see the Flatiron Building, Met Life clock tower, Empire State Building and other landmarks through a kaleidoscopic lens and LEDs that activate within the structure enhance the effect.

While usually thought of as a provider of post-its and other office supplies, 3M global communications leader Glenn Carter said that the company has a growing technology division. The company manufactures a material called multilayer optical film, known as dichroic film, that SOFTlab used in the piece.

“The materials are often used in interior design to change the look of walls and it’s intended to have a transformative look and feel,” Carter said, noting that the film is generally used in architectural applications. “It’s big brand science applied to life. (The film) lends itself to the design field so artists can experiment and play with it. It has a kaleidoscope feel.”

“Nova” was recently installed at the Flatiron Pedestrian Plaza’s north side. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

“Nova” was recently installed at the Flatiron Pedestrian Plaza’s north side. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Carter noted that 3M has previously worked with SOFTlab on other projects, which made it a natural collaboration.

“We’ve worked with SOFTlab in the past so they already had a familiarity with the material,” he said. “What better place to have this up than in Flatiron, right in the middle of the tech corridor, and from a firm in the neighborhood.”

Michael Szivos, the lead designer in the project and an engineer with SOFTlab, has a background in architecture and said that he wanted to create an installation that offered an alternative take on a traditional gazebo.

“It’s a pedestrian-scale kaleidoscope,” Szivos said. “Being inside is a different experience from being outside.”

Editor’s note: This story originally stated that dichroic film can be used on cell phone screens as a privacy shield, but this information has been removed because the materials used for that application are not the same as the film used in this project. 

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