Client: Lemp Jewelers
Location: Syracuse, NY, United States
Completion date: 2012
Artwork budget: $12,500
Syracuse Public Art Commission
S.Alt City is an interactive mural in downtown Syracuse that celebrates both the city’s industrial past and its current status as an artistic hub. At first glance, the image appears historical, depicting a salt barge and a brine distribution center. On closer inspection, the mural turns out to be a mosaic composed of hundreds of QR codes, each linking to a contemporary arts organization in the greater Syracuse region.
The mural was conceived as a piece of the Connective Corridor, which seeks to relink Syracuse University with the downtown through a combination of signage, pedestrian friendly infrastructure, and interactive installations. While the S.Alt City mural itself is static, viewers are directed to websites with live feed updates, including one that announces events sponsored by local arts organizations, including the Everson Museum, Erie Canal Museum, Artrage, and Lightwork.
The QR links are also flexible: they can be changed or updated as new institutions emerge. The mural engages two critical issues in design—firstly, the use of new media and second, the problem of how to instigate urban life in the post industrial city. While QR codes have become ubiquitous in advertising and branding, they have yet to be exploited in artistic, architectural, or experimental ways. Mobile devices have changed the way we navigate cities, but have barely affected the built environment itself. While the Internet has made information ubiquitous, projects like S.Alt City suggest that new technologies
While this project was a self initiated project by the designer, it would not have been possible without personal, local, and institutional collaborations. The nature of the project – connecting historical Syracuse with the contemporary arts community—delineated a collaborative project. One could argue that the mural itself is a demonstration of these local, regional, and historical connections. The mural was conceived of as a piece of the Connective Corridor, thus connecting Syracuse University with the urban center of the city. Furthermore, the Public Art Commission offered critical feedback and assistance in developing the mural. The Erie Canal Museum opened its archives to the designer and granted permission for the final image to be used. Finally, the mural was produced by a team of architecture students from Syracuse and the SUNY, Buffalo.
S.Alt City also explores how the existing built landscapes of post industrial cities can be repurposed. Such underutilized spaces are ubiquitous in the contemporary city—voids of activity, not blighted enough to be torn down, but not aesthetically or programmatically rich enough to support the downtown as a vibrant pedestrian environment. If the car was the primary tool that shaped cities in the 20th century—often inadvertently— it is our job as designers to question how the primary “transportation device” – ie, mobile media, might reshape our cities in meaningful ways.