With New York City real estate at such a premium, it is hard to image how short a life the single-story structure has these days. And even harder to imagine how many still exist throughout our five boroughs.
In 2015, photographer and long-time East Village resident Adam Friedberg decided to explore all the single-story buildings in the East Village and the Lower East Side. To date, he has documented in photographs nearly 100 sites. Many of these images are now on view in his exhibition, Single-Story Project, at the Center for Architecture. Walk with us down to the lower-level and take a look.
With these neighborhoods quickly changing, and many smaller structures disappearing, Friedberg recognized the immediacy of capturing the moment, just steps in front of the bulldozers. In his own words, he speaks beautifully of the ‘negative space’ above ~ the treasure of seeing sky in an urban environment with overwhelmingly imposing buildings, layered block after block, all around.
“Of particular interest to me…is the negative space these single-story buildings create,” says Friedberg. “They open the street to the sky, providing a vista that can be enjoyed by all of us. With air rights, sunshine, and city views so valuable, and with the polarization of wealth having a direct impact on the area’s demographics, how much longer can these squat buildings stand?”
The exhibition at the Center for Architecture will feature 54 of Friedberg’s blunt and frontal black and white photographs, loosely arranged around six uses—storefronts, churches, garages and warehouses, cultural and community spaces, bars and restaurants, and strips.
By shooting the buildings just after dawn, Friedberg captures photographs without cars or people, not easy to do, thus resulting in quiet and uncluttered streetscapes that help the viewer see these background buildings as foreground.
Friedberg’s matter-of-fact documentary style prompts us to pause and consider the value of these places. The series serves as a historical record, documenting the single-story buildings of the East Village and Lower East in this transitional time, before they are gone, and thanks to him, they will not be forgotten.
Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Adam Friedberg has lived in NYC since 1988, working as a professional photographer since 1991. It is interesting to note that while his commercial work is almost entirely digital, his personal projects ~ Like Single-Story Project, are film based. In addition, he began an Empty Lots Project, which he started in 1999 ~ we would love to see that exhibited on a wall next to what most likely occupies the space now. All of his ‘Projects’ are shot in and around his neighborhood, the Lower East Side.
His hope is that this series will become a historical document, published in book form.
Adam Friedberg: Single-Story Project curated by Alan G. Brake, Assoc. AIA, with exhibition design by Vanessa Lam, will be on view through February 29, 2020 at Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village.
This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.