Israeli futurist creates paean to Valentine’s Day in Times Square

Heart Squared is the brainchild of a dynamic team of futurists, architects and designers that stars Israeli-born Rachely Rotem

THE ‘HEART SQUARED’ installation in Times Square. (photo credit: F. OUDEMAN)
THE ‘HEART SQUARED’ installation in Times Square.
(photo credit: F. OUDEMAN)
NEW YORK – A flirtatious installation dedicated to love, diversity and democracy in the center of New York City’s Times Square has Israeli heart written all over it.
Located on Father Duffy Square on 7th Avenue between 46th and 47th streets, Heart Squared is this year’s winner of New York City’s annual Times Square Valentine Heart Design Competition.
Heart Squared is the brainchild of a dynamic team of futurists, architects and designers that stars Israeli-born Rachely Rotem, director of MODU, a Brooklyn-based firm, it will remain in place until the end of February.
Born and bred in Tel Aviv, Rotem’s mother is an artist and her father, an engineer, so it is as if Rotem embodies those two talents in one. Stunning and dynamic, the Academy of Rome fellow Rotem is quick to point out the project is a collaboration created and developed with a team that includes Phu Hoang, the other founding director at MODU, and Eric Forman from the Eric Forman Studio. She and Hoang began their partnership back in 2010 while working on Exhale, the winning entry in the Oceanfront Competition, held by Art Basel Miami Beach and Creative Time. They formed MODU in 2012.
Heart Squared is not just a pretty face. What began simply enough with a sketch developed within a democratic environment of exchange and feedback, she explains, Heart Squared reflects the fundamental awareness of democracy within an urban environment peopled with millions of passersby.
Find a “sweet spot” to capture your image in front of a giant pixelated heart that appears surrounded by a field of reflected sky. Even on a cloudy day in one of the densest urban spaces in the world, day or night, Heart Squared reflects the world around it and anyone and everyone who engages with it.
Comprised of cubic steel lattice, thin steel rods and no less than 98% air, the piece encourages the public to surround its infinite grid from all sides. Seemingly suspended with the open lattices and tilted at various angles are more than 120 mirrors reflecting all that is vibrant in Times Square: neon lights, billboards, Broadway, the sky above and the nearly half million pedestrians that walk through daily on its busiest days, and well, you, the viewer, at the very heart of the world’s frenetic metropolis.
“SINCE HEART SQUARED reflects inclusivity, the process should also reflect collaboration... Times Square has so much in it that we wanted a design that would reflect nature, people and yet, it maintains a very quiet presence,” said Rotem.
While living in Rome for a year, Rotem recalled working on abandoned construction sites that often plague both cities and suburbs and become blights and embarrassments for communities. Dubbed mini-buildings, they are modestly priced modular inserts installed into abandoned buildings that can be moved to other sites. While they are there, they uplift the communities around them.
MODU has been involved in a wide range of incredibly forward-looking designs that illustrate her philosophy of working in concert with nature. From Pittsburgh to Brooklyn, Houston to Beijing, Tel Aviv, Rome, Sydney, Miami, to Washington, DC, MODU has helped to redevelop, reimagine and transform underutilized spaces, including housing and workspaces into sustainable, aesthetically pleasing environments.
One dramatic improvement of an abandoned space is The Outdoor Room, a pavilion in Beijing’s iconic Olympic Park, which has been tremendously underutilized since the completion of the 2008 Summer Games. Through a large, elliptical roof opening, views of the city continually materialize and dissolve in the sky.
On clear days, this void frames the Olympic Observation Tower and beyond to the National Stadium. On other days, these landmarks disappear from sight, swallowed by thick smog. In the interior, the colors produced by the pollution – mottled blues, grays and yellows – are reflected and diffused by panels of translucent fabric. The Outdoor Room renders the atmosphere into a mutating spectacle of the sky’s changing colors.
Locally, Israelis can visit MODU’s Cloud Seeding project in front of the Design Museum Holon near Tel Aviv. The minimally invasive design is a glass roof panel filled with translucent balls made from recycled water bottles that move freely and shift with the wind thus creating shifting shadows and shade over a once underutilized plaza now available for dance performances, readings or lounging.
What’s next for Rotem and MODU? “Cities are one of our biggest interests. We are interested in how architecture can promote social and sustainable connections to promote a sense of well-being within the urban fabric. Growing up in Israel, understanding the local culture and the climatic challenges – Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are at the top of the list.”
Heart Squared’s fabrication by NewProject took three months in the shop. It arrived in three segments and took 24 hours to install. Rotem and her colleagues are now searching for a future home for it.