As hotel guests swing their cars into the parking lot off East Main Street, their eyes dart past the valet to the booth from which he emerged.
Its soaring lines, steel and glass are eye-catching certainly. But the parking lot attendant booth at The Westin Columbus – Great Southern Hotel is intended to challenge the imagination, too.
“Public art, through its surprise, through its originality, through its location can get people to think about spaces in new ways,” explains Malcolm Cochran, professor emeritus in Ohio State’s Department of Art.
Cochran has been a leader in the Bold Booths project, which seeks to transform a suite of booths in downtown Columbus into public works of art.
The first, titled Coney Island, opened in May and recently received an award from the American Institute of Architects Ohio. Knowlton School of Architecture Professor Beth Blostein and her partner, Bart Overly, say the design was inspired by the geometric shapes inside the Southern Theatre.
“A parking booth is not typically considered to be a piece of architecture,” Blostein says. “We wanted to bring that notion into question through a design that was both serious in its intentions yet whimsical in effect.”
Blostein/Overly Architects blended unconventional construction materials and techniques with traditional approaches. Pieces of 2-by-4 lumber built by hand, for example, meet seamlessly with EPS foam cones that were milled digitally.
“We like to build things that are unique,” says Wade Hungerford, president and CEO of MCR Services, which provided significant in-kind support for the construction of the booth. “We have some advanced tools, but (Coney Island) required pros to put together. I’m amazed with the way it turned out. I’ve sent pictures to friends and family around the country, and they ask, ‘You built that?’ ”
For Blostein and Overly, both 1991 graduates of Ohio State, the hope is that the booth prompts others to question everyday design, too.
“There’s so much in the built world that is purely utilitarian. These booths are accepted as such and often not considered from a design standpoint,” Overly says.
“The project makes us wonder: Are there other similar opportunities out there that we’re just accepting as convention, as utility, that we should be considering as new places for architecture and design?”
Cochran also enjoys the social awareness stemming from the project as well. Parking lot attendant work isn’t glamorous; the quarters are cramped and often lack heating and cooling for winter and summer months. The new booths offer a more pleasing work environment aesthetically but also provide greater comfort for those who work in them.
“This is special,” he says. “We hope it’s something they take pride in and are excited to come to work in instead of a little box.”
Bold Booths originated as a project of Finding Time: Columbus Public Art 2012, a partnership between Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District (SID) and Ohio State to commission temporary public art downtown in conjunction with the city’s bicentennial celebration. The booth designs were completed in 2012; they are being constructed with funds from an additional Engagement Impact Grant from Ohio State and grants from The Columbus Foundation, The Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Ohio Arts Council.
Capital Crossroads SID Executive Director Cleve Ricksecker says public art contributes to a downtown atmosphere where creative people feel welcome, which is what business owners want to convey to visitors and the 80,000 people who work downtown. Bold Booths, he believes, could draw national attention for Columbus as well.
“I’ve not seen anything like this before,” he says. “The booths are one of those little treats that make you realize you can’t replicate the character and experience of downtown anywhere else.”