This week, we tagged along with Chen Chen and Kai Williams for a field trip to Willets Point, one of the designers' go-to spots for inspiration. Set in Queens, New York, in the shadow of the new Citi Field stadium, this industrial neighborhood is said to have inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Valley of Ashes" in The Great Gatsby. Also known as the "Iron Triangle," Willets Point is full of auto body shops, junkyards, and waste processing sites.
According to the designers, "Willets Point basically hasn't changed in the past 100 years. It's not hooked up to the city's sewer system, and while the roads must've been paved at some point, they're so dilapidated now they look basically like dirt. When it rains, the pits in the roads become giant puddles, and stay that way for days. . . It's really like no place else in New York."
The area is quite primitive looking, to be sure (some even say "post-apocalyptic"), but, as Chen and Kai note, it's also incredibly interesting (consider the shops built from shipping containers and fencing, for example). "What's cool to us as designers is that people are dealing with a very interesting set of problems here [no sewage, no city-funded upkeep, etc.], which then creates a very interesting set of solutions. It's a pretty ad hoc, whatever-works way of thinking, which we find really inspiring. People are just making structures and doing work with what they already have; basically, everything is built with automotive tools, which is a very different sort of toolbox than one normally sees."
The city has plans to redevelop the area (including building a convention center, a hotel, and more), and has recently begun buying up land; row after row of closed shop stands in evidence to the changing neighborhood.
Kai notes: "I don’t think there’s anything to be sad about; it's just the progression of a city developing. But we think it's important to be aware of how the city's changing around us."
Thanks so much, Chen and Kai!
All photos © Anna Carnick for L'AB/Pamono
Anna CarnickAnna is Pamono’s Managing Editor. Her writing has appeared in several arts and culture publications, and she's edited over 20 books. Anna loves celebrating great artists, and seriously enjoys a good picnic.