Umbrellas can’t protect huge dome from stormy weather
Born in Hunts Point, a huge, igloo-shaped dome composed of umbrellas found itself doing time on Rikers Island on Oct. 19.
The dome was no criminal; it was a work of environmental art. Built on The Point’s Bronx River campus next to Hunts Point Riverside Park and meant to comment on the amount of debris found in the city’s waterways by using broken and discarded umbrellas supported by soda bottles, it was supposed to float from the park to the Harlem River and upriver to Manhattan’s Inwood Hill Park.
The choppy currents of the East River on a rainy Wednesday had another idea.
They drove the lacy structure up onto Rikers Island. Its creators said they couldn’t retrieve it because of the jail’s no-outsiders-allowed policy.
But the artists haven’t given up.
Dubbed the Harvest Dome, the structure was the second floating sculpture produced by Bronx River Crossing, which in 2009 floated a replica of the lower Bronx River watershed made from discarded junk, including 3,000 MetroCards, down the Bronx River to Hunts Point Riverside Park.
Bronx River Crossing is the brainchild of architects Alexander Levi and Amanda Schachter, who designed the dome, and built it with a grant from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the help of volunteers from Hunts Point and elsewhere.
Levi and Schacter plan to rebuild the dome next year. Despite its untimely end, they say they had a great experience building it and working in Hunts Point.
“We are getting to know New York in a completely different way,” said Schachter, foraging for discarded umbrellas and building in the Bronx.
Nilka Martell, a Parkchester resident and one of the volunteers for the project, helped to gather umbrellas by making a collection in her apartment building. “I think the project is wonderful,” she said.
Her friend Eilieen Bonilla, a union carpenter who used her skills to help build the dome, said she is eager to get involved with more community-based environmental projects as a result of her work in the park.
Martell’s 13-year-old son Isaias also worked on the dome, which was 24 feet in diameter, roughly as big around as an above-ground swimming pool in a suburban backyard, and 16 feet, almost two stories, high.
Among the volunteers was Andre Rivera, a Soundview resident, who also volunteers at Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice and who has just been hired as an education intern at the Bronx River Alliance. He had worked on Bronx River Crossing’s Watershed Raft in 2009, and at 18, has been involved in community work for more than six years.
“My main focus is community first,” said Rivera. For all of the non-profit groups I work with, our main goal is to get people into the projects we are working on.”
Sturdy metal rods provided the dome’s shape, and the struts of the broken umbrellas attached to them shimmered in sunlight. The sculpture took its name from the fact that the umbrellas had been “harvested” from the city’s streets, said Schachter.
Two-liter soda bottles—128 of them—were attached to the base of the dome, to help keep it afloat. The architects were confident it would work, because they had used the same device for their earlier floating sculpture.
Schachter and Levi chose Inwood in Northern Manhattan as the dome’s destination because the wanted people to understand the tides. In Inwood Hill Park, the water recedes to reveal a mudflat twice a day. They also wanted to give exposure to the city’s last remaining natural salt marsh.
“We were looking for space in Inwood where we could work, but we had no luck,” said Schachter. Hunts Point was a good alternative location for building the dome, she said, because there was enough space to accommodate such a massive project.
The dome weighed about 300 pounds. Adam Green, the founder and executive director of Rocking the Boat, lent the organization’s motorboat to tow the sculpture on its planned journey from the mouth of the Bronx River, into the East River and up the Harlem River. One purpose of the journey was to emphasize the connection between the Bronx and the rivers, according to the artists.
Another neighbor helped get the Harvest Dome into the water. Sims Metal Management provided the crane that lifted it into the river.
It floated as it was supposed to, but the rough weather conditions made it impossible for the boat to control the dome. The captain had to cut the line, setting it adrift.
The dome, it turns out wasn’t locked in solitary; it’s back in the waste stream with the rest of the umbrellas that failed on the stormy day of its maiden voyage.
According to Sharman Stein, the deputy commissioner for public information at the Department of Corrections, when the dome arrived at the jail island, “We hoisted it out of the water. It fell apart.”