A year after New York City went into lockdown, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 of its residents. The tragedy’s scale has made it difficult to comprehend the private griefs so many of us have experienced: the million heartbreaks of lost friends, lost livelihoods, lost neighborhood fixtures, lost senses of belonging. Instead of proposing a grand permanent memorial, we asked a wide range of New Yorkers about the moments from the pandemic that stood out to them and how they would want those experiences to be commemorated. In response, a selection of architects and artists translated those memories into proposals for temporary installations. We imposed no budget limit and no restrictions: The result could be a sculpture, a mural, a pavilion, a song — anything that could become part of the streetscape for a while. Presented here is one of 15 concepts submitted by architects, designers, artists, and composers; the rest will appear over the course of this week.
Client: Infinite Clovie
High-school senior in East New York
Infinite Clovie: When the pandemic first started, we went fully remote. To be honest with you, it was an adjustment, especially with school, because in the beginning, I just lacked the motivation because I was confused about what was going on and there was a lot of anxiety. And then it was a little laziness from having to hold yourself responsible for the work. But after about a month or two, I was able to make that adjustment. The thing that initially got me motivated was seeing that I have two little sisters that look up to me and I know it’s just something I had to do. After that, there were moments where you just didn’t feel like getting up and doing things, but the teachers were very helpful.
Seeing friends at school? Oh, I miss it. I really do. ’Cause online, no one has their cameras on — it’s just a bunch of black squares. It was my senior year too. I only really talk to two of my friends from school. Everybody else either has collapsed, and what I mean by collapsed is they totally defaulted, they’re not doing any work. On top of what’s going on with the pandemic, I could see it piling up on them. A lot of them are just starting to quit life basically.
So me and a couple of my peers, I have a club in the school that’s called Never Forget My Brothers. The Never Forget My Brothers Club is something I’ve created, a space for the young men in the school and in the community, so they can come and have a place where we could get into some positive things and have people support you. We used to hold weekly meetings when everything was going on, with the protests and things like that, just so people can see how everybody’s feeling. Actually in May and June, when a lot of the protests started happening, we held our meetings and it was online, but a lot of people came.
The summer, it was a very eye-opening time. I had just started to appreciate the little things more because a lot of people died and a lot of people were losing their jobs. I lost two of my aunts [to COVID]. This was the worst Zip Code in Brooklyn next to Brookdale Hospital.
Architect: BRANDT : HAFERD
Location: East New York
Infinite Clovie had nowhere to go during the pandemic. Attending high school remotely and losing his two part-time jobs, he went from being busy (and out of the house) from morning until midnight to actually having time to pause and think. While some of his friends “collapsed,” Clovie kept his after-school club for young men going, built himself a bedroom and sound studio in his grandmother’s apartment, and launched a fashion line. Recently, he and his after-school club have also been meeting with local officials to petition for low-cost internet.
East New York, where he lives, was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic in Brooklyn. And so the image that comes to mind when he thinks about the last twelve months is “a community under the sun.” He adds, “What the pandemic has showed us is that we don’t really have to be raisins in the sun.” Instead, he says, “We can be replenished in the sun.” And where would this take place? “I want it to be somewhere where everybody can see it … maybe on top of a building.”
BRANDT : HAFERD, a Harlem-based design firm named after principals Jerome Haferd and K. Brandt Knapp, conceived of what they call a “rooflet” for Clovie. It’s the next iteration of a “parklet” they designed for local restaurants in the Harlem Renaissance Pavilion to offer outdoor dining. That streetery project, in collaboration with artist Thomas Heath, was inspired by the idea of migration and movement, with images that migrated across the surface of the structure. The designers see the rooflet for Clovie as the next step in a practice that began with their first built project, a 2012 folly for a competition organized by the Architectural League and Socrates Sculpture Park.
“His story just spoke to us and to our own experience as a small and at-times precarious design office,” Haferd says. “Some of the genealogy is also in a way a sort of resourcefulness — building, tweaking, remixing on an idea.” Clovie’s desire to fight isolation, to stay motivated, and to draw strength from the sun moved the designers to envision a structure that could support his drive and his projects. “We just allowed ourselves the imaginative space to pretend that in five years from now, this very entrepreneurial teenager has a fashion line,” Brandt says. “And maybe what started his success was that in COVID times he needed to have pop-ups, but instead of them being indoors, they’re rooflets.”
The design team also saw cultural connections between Harlem, where they are based, and Clovie’s neighborhood of East New York. “In a way we began to collide our two stories and intermix them,” Haferd says. He also notes that Clovie’s quote about raisins in the sun comes from the poem “Harlem,” by Langston Hughes, which begins with the haunting and by-now familiar question, “What happens to a dream deferred?” “There’s a connection between these spaces of Black liberation and our collective liberation during COVID,” he says.
The rooflet structure looks woven together, in part driven by their exploration of quilting. The designers see their approach as not only theoretically-driven, but also rooted in their interest in craft and the process of making things by hand. “We did feel,” Haferd adds, “like [Clovie] was co-producing this with us.”
More From This Series
- HECTOR Imagines a Monumental Party Ramp for a Disability Activist
- Leni Schwendinger Makes a Lightscape of the Evening Streetery Scene
- Yeju & Chat Assembles Street-Vendor Umbrellas Into Community Message Boards