By Jen Kinney.
Just a few blocks separate San Francisco’s Civic Plaza from the restaurants and entertainment in Little Saigon, but as it is today, the route along Larkin Street isn’t very inviting. The stretch is pocked with blank walls and dark at night. It’s also a common gathering place for homeless men and women, and has garnered a perception of being unsafe. The space is in between and indeterminate too, part of the Tenderloin neighborhood, but with spillover businesses from Little Saigon, and newly trafficked by techies from the software companies that have relocated up the street.
In a bid to repair the severed connection, the Tenderloin Community Benefit District worked with nonprofit Our City to solicit design proposals for light-based art on Larkin Street. The winning design, a series of light installations that change color in response to sound and appear as a coherent symbol only from a certain perspective, was announced this week.
“The challenge was to try to help create a culture because [Larkin Street] doesn’t already have a particularly cohesive one, and to get people to actually spend time there, and to voluntarily traverse the corridor,” says Annie Atura, a member of winning team Synesthesia. Their original design was inspired by two primary facets of life on Larkin Street: the Tenderloin’s noisiness, and the inescapability of urban sound for people living outside. Of all the city’s neighborhoods, the Tenderloin receives some of the highest rates of noise complaints.
“I was interested in trying to transform noise from a nuisance into something productive and interesting,” says Atura. “And I was also interested in using the lighting to break down the barriers between interiors and exteriors. If you’re driving through the area or walking as quickly as possible, how can we use light to shatter the boundary, real or imagined, between you and the people outside?”