Art project breathes life into empty build­ings

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OBITUARIES - By Michael Hill

Empty homes on blighted blocks here pulse with a ghostly glow ev­ery night.

Win­dows in more than 150 aban­doned build­ings in three up­state New York cities have been fit­ted with light-emit­ting diodes that steadily brighten and fade, giv­ing the ef­fect of slow breath­ing. The two-month pub­lic art project pro­vides some­thing pretty for gritty neigh­bor­hoods in Al­bany, Sch­enec­tady and Troy and shines a light — fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally — on the prob­lems posed by the va­cant brown­stones and clap­board homes. “Re­mind peo­ple that these build­ings ex­ist, be­cause so of­ten we just get so ac­cus­tomed to the dark­ness we just walk right on by,” says ar­chi­tect Bar­bara Nel­son, who cre­ated the “Breath­ing Lights” project with artist Adam Fre­lin.

Be­hind each glow­ing win­dow is a wooden frame with plas­tic stretched across the ex­te­rior face to dif­fuse the light. LED strips in­side brighten and dim at about seven times a minute for four hours a night. Power comes from golf cart bat­ter­ies.

Fre­lin and Nel­son won a $1 mil­lion pub­lic arts grant from Bloomberg Phi­lan­thropies to get the project started. The phas­ing of the lights in and out like breaths is in­tended as a metaphor about the lives of build­ings and al­ludes to the life now ab­sent from the empty spa­ces. “To some­one who doesn’t know my his­tory, they will walk by and see an aban­doned build­ing,” says project neigh­bor­hood li­ai­son Jerry Ford, who once lived in a Troy home that was later aban­doned. “I look at it and I see where I used to live. I re­mem­ber Christ­mas. I re­mem­ber my son be­ing brought home to that build­ing. I re­mem­ber mow­ing the grass. It’s mem­o­ries to me.” There are some 2,500 va­cant build­ings in the three cities. Fre­lin says fill­ing ev­ery empty build­ing is not a re­al­is­tic goal, but the project cer­tainly has started some con­ver­sa­tions since the lights first blinked on last month. Peo­ple told Fre­lin they ini­tially thought the build­ings were ready to ex­plode, or were haunted. In Sch­enec­tady, lo­cals found that the glow­ing homes light­ened the block in more ways than one. “There were squat­ters in some of the houses, ac­tu­ally,” says KeyLynn Bel­roseWest­fall.

In Troy, Ja­son Franklin won­ders if the money spent on mak­ing two homes breathe on his fam­ily’s street could have been put to bet­ter use.

“They need to put the money into the houses to get them fixed,” he says. “You’ve got these peo­ple ... they’re sleep­ing on the streets.”

MIKE GROLL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this Nov. 14 photo, win­dows in va­cant houses are il­lu­mi­nated with LED lights in Al­bany. Win­dows in more than 150 aban­doned build­ings in three up­state New York cities have been fit­ted with light-emit­ting diodes that steadily brighten and fade, giv­ing the ef­fect of slow breath­ing. The two-month pub­lic art project pro­vides some­thing pretty for gritty neigh­bor­hoods of Al­bany, Sch­enec­tady and Troy.

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