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New Work: Newark Gateways

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How do you create an identifying landmark for a city that is chiefly known as a place to pass through? This spring Pentagram Architects was invited by the City of Newark, New Jersey Division of Planning & Community Development to submit a proposal for “This Is Newark,” an initiative to create a series of “gateways” for the city. The proposed designs are on view in an exhibition at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art in downtown Newark through this Saturday, April 18, when the city will host a roundtable discussion about the proposals.

The designers were asked to mark the points of arrival in Newark and to address the history and culture of the city in the urban landscape. Only eight miles from New York City, Newark is home to Newark Liberty International Airport; Port Newark, the largest container port on the Eastern Seaboard; and Mayor Corey Booker, a rising star in the Democratic party.

Our design considers the nature of travel and Newark’s role as a hub. It is no accident that the assignment for the Newark gateways project was delivered as a Google Earth file: this is, more and more, the way we virtually “travel.” Our gateways address both remote and local audiences with a set of ideas that are legible in reality and cyber-reality. In our concept, a series of painted “events” on the Newark streetscape would bring Newark to the world, and bring the world to Newark.


Map symbology has a long and storied history. The process of representing the three-dimensional world as flat and map-like requires a notational language. Our proposal places a new set of distinct symbols “on the map” by creating them for the Google Earth point of view. With paint and little else, Newark can define itself, celebrate its entry points, and address a global audience, all in one stroke. The painted “events” are visible and engaging on Google Earth, while the real locations would be signed with images from above that explain the colors and patterns on the ground.

There are two parts to the design: the graphics applied to the street, and the signage explaining the graphics. The painted street graphics are, like any street striping, a simple and inexpensive technology that can be done by municipal agencies or by subcontracted works. Maintenance is a matter of scheduled repainting every few years.

Color is a matter of choice; we have used orange for its visibility, but red may resonate with the sports teams of Newark. The color is important for satellite visibility and for consistency. Marking the gateways will only have a cumulative effect if the color is the same at every instance.

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Placed near each of the symbols are event markers, internally lighted signs on angled posts that provide an aerial view of the symbol as placed on the streetscape. Google Earth provides the artwork for these signs; perhaps they can be convinced to re-photograph Newark after the installation of the graphics.

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Project Team: James Biber, partner-in-charge; Michael Zweck-Bronner, associate; James Bowman, architect. Inspired by a lecture delivered by John Zissovici, Professor at Cornell University, College of Architecture, Art and Planning.