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It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas in Flatiron District

Nova is the winning display by SOFTlab

The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership Business Improvement District (BID) and Van Alen Institute today announced SOFTlab as the winner of the Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition.

The second annual competition of its kind, it called for proposals from New York design firms for a temporary installation at the heart of the Flatiron District.

SOFTlab’s winning proposal, Nova, will be the centerpiece of the Partnership’s annual holiday programming and a highly visible landmark in the neighborhood.

SOFTlab’s installation opens to the public on Wednesday, November 18—on the North Flatiron Public Plaza at Broadway, Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street—and will remain on view through the holidays as part of the Partnership’s annual “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer” programming.

When complete, the crystalline Nova installation will compel passersby to enter the structure and gaze onto Flatiron’s iconic landmarks, framed by apertures in the installation’s exterior.

The closed call competition began in July 2015, when the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute—an organizer of design competitions for over 120 years—invited five design and architecture firms to submit proposals for this year’s installation.

The invited firms were Bureau V, Method Design, Sage and Coombe, SOFTlab, and Studio KCA. A jury with expertise across the worlds of design and public art, including representatives from the Partnership as well as Van Alen Institute’s Board of Trustees reviewed the proposals.


“The annual holiday installation is now a tradition in the district that is enjoyed by visitors and locals alike.  It provides a festive and magical experience on the Public Plaza during the holiday season, said Flatiron Partnership Executive Director Jennifer Brown.  “We are particularly proud that this year’s installation is a true local effort – not only in our partnership with Van Alen Institute, but also in the selection of a neighborhood design firm, SOFTlab.”

Golden Ribbon by StudioKCA was designed to resemble a giant holiday ribbon made of lit golden boxes.

“This project is a fantastic opportunity to engage with a local site and designer,” said David van der Leer, Executive Director of Van Alen Institute. “SOFTlab’s Nova offers a playful and unusual perspective of the landmarks and street life surrounding the plaza that will be a visually stimulating and interactive outdoor experience for the holiday season.”

In Nova, the placement of scopes, or viewing cones, is arranged to represent a centralized proverbial North Star for the Flatiron District, with each scope pointing to a distinct landmark. In effect, Nova acts as an observatory for the “constellation” of iconic sites in the neighborhood: the Flatiron Building, Met Life Tower clock tower, Empire State Building, and surrounding landmarks.

The winning Nova design
Inside the winning Nova design

“Using a mix of optical materials, our design creates a human scale kaleidoscope, remixing the surrounding iconic buildings with color, light, and the reflections of pedestrians,” said Michael Szivos, Founder and Principal at SOFTlab. “Although our design reads as an iconic and festive figure from above, the experience at the pedestrian level is very different. The exterior gives way to a crystal-like, mirror-surfaced interior that looks different from all sides.”

“Design is always about creating magical experiences, and we’re excited to see 3M materials inspire SOFTlab to connect imagination with space and community for this year’s winning Flatiron installation,” said Eric Quint, Chief Design Officer at 3M. “Collaborative creativity is what sparks ongoing new possibilities in our world of design; the Nova project demonstrates this, transforming 3M optical materials for safety and light management into a new context of art and architecture in the heart of the Flatiron District.”

Sponsored by the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, Nova and the accompanying programming “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer” is also made possible with support from Presenting Sponsors Tiffany & Co. and Meringoff Properties, Contributing Sponsors Grey Group and Macmillan.

Sage & Coombe submitted Snowclone, modified phone booths along the plaza allowing strangers to speak to each other.


Competition Jury Members were Nicholas Athanail, The Corcoran Group and Flatiron Partnership board member; Michael Bierut, Partner, Pentagram; Wendy Feuer, New York City Department of Transportation Urban Design & Art; Jessica Healy, USA Pavilion Expo Milano 2015 and Van Alen board member; John Loercher, Digifabshop; Jane Kojima, Deputy Director, Flatiron Partnership; Aleksey Lukyanov, Partner, Situ Studio; and David van der Leer, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute.

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