ENTRY #583

VISUAL THOUGHT | Bird of Space by Zachary Gould / Philipp Siedler


Identify a public space

Named after James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” and an outspoken advocate of the Bill of Rights, Madison Square Park has been a gathering place for protest and political expression since it was first opened on May 10th, 1847. The land has been public property ever since Royal Governor Thomas Dongen revised the City Charter in 1686, and has been host to many diverse demonstrations of free speech (including crusades against the Crystal Palace in 1853, the Spate rocking chair riots of 1901, and several protests against the War in Iraq in 2003-2004). Despite its rich, relevant history, none of the existing monuments in Madison Square Park explicitly highlight or encourage the practice of first amendment rights. This presents a vivid opportunity to intertwine historical roots of free speech with a more interactive, modern interpretation of what vocal expression can mean in the 21st century. In a place as centrally located as the Flatiron District these new found voices could very well find enough ears to achieve real impact.

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Design Proposal

This proposal is an acknowledgement of and a reaction to the following quote by Khalil Gibran from his philosophical masterpiece The Prophet: “For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.” What is remarkable is that in articulating this profound notion Gibran has boldly challenged his own assertion- words, though certainly subject to semantic limitations, can be used in creative ways to express beautifully complex ideas. The form of our proposed installation is inspired by the image of a caged bird breaking free of its confines and taking wing toward the trees. Five trunks emerge from the earth in a rigid, closed, cage-like lattice. Each one wraps itself around a sound booth outfitted with microphones and overhead speakers where individuals or small groups can openly speak anything that comes to mind. Recorded sounds trigger LED effects and induce the sequential inflation and deflation of pneumatic cushions radially upward and outward. These mechanical and optical vocal visualizations reinforce the transition from captive foundation to free sky and force surrounding eyes to travel up towards the nests of real birds resting in the branches above. Direct spoken words alone can actuate the installation- inducing active participation for full experience- and all recognized words will be tallied and displayed as info-graphics online. Common themes will be highlighted to ensure that despite limitations on language the collective thought of the community can be elegantly articulated in many visual forms.

View the Design Proposal

Video Link


Just as words are assembled into meaningful thoughts, our structural modules will be fastened together into their final forms. Each module will have the capacity for two LED lighting strips, a clamping profile, and a joint/cap assembly modeled after Cornell University professor Jack Elliot’s Triakonta system to connect pieces mechanically and consolidate electrical connections/tubing. Modules will be extruded from stainless steel with built in central gutter and channels for gasketing air hoses to the under side of each cushion. Pressure to be maintained with one large Air Handling Unit and a series of smaller pumps for individual inflation/rarefaction. Concrete feet will be poured around the perimeter of the structure with threaded mounting brackets for first level modules. Two layers of polyethylene film will be welded together with a reinforced border just large enough to fit in the clamping profile with additional layers of nylon fabric above and below. After structural construction, fabric tensioning and pneumatic installation will be conducted followed by microphone and speaker installation and soundproofing of all the booths. The speech recognition software will be powered by the same algorithm that runs Michelle Cortese’s log(me) iOS application and data will be stored and streamed through a Postgres SQL database with Python/Django visualization. Lighting and pneumatic effects will be directly proportional to the frequency vs loudness profile of recorded words. Majority of funding will be secured through NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Cultural Development Fund with additional support through MAD SQ ART.


Zachary Gould brings a technical mechanical engineering perspective to the team. Zachary currently works in creative renewable energy focusing on sculptural turbines, vibrational facades, and other ways to visualize energy present in the environment. His interest in philosophy, linguistic ethnography, and the physics of sound also serve as major inspirations.

Philipp Siedler is a student of architecture and urban planning. His primary focus is in computational manufacturing and design but his inspiration ranges from classical drawing and sculpting to performative expressions like dancing and acting. Philipp enjoys working across disciplines and combining creative and technical elements into dynamic architectural designs.