Making HeartBeat

An installation by Stereotank
2015 Times Square Valentine Heart

For the past seven years, the Times Square Alliance’s public arts program Times Square Arts has held a limited design competition for architecture and design firms to create an installation celebrating Valentine’s Day in Times Square. This year, they asked The Architectural League to collaborate on the competition by curating the list of invited firms and overseeing the Request For Proposals, which was managed by the League’s Program Director, Anne Rieselbach.

Brooklyn-based studio Stereotank’s HeartBeat was chosen as the winner of the 2015 Times Square Valentine Heart. HeartBeat is a glowing, pulsing urban drum. This interactive sculpture consists of a massive heart with a pulsing light that is modulated to the rhythm of a deep heartbeat sound. Visitors are encouraged to engage with it by playing various percussion instruments to create rhythmic noises that replace the sound of the heartbeat. The audience is invited to come together and creatively play, listen, dance and feel the vibrations of the heart while enjoying the warm pulsating light. In the emblematic, active, flickering atmosphere of Times Square, HeartBeat orchestrates multiple rhythms into a unique urban concert.

HeartBeat is constructed from two modified, custom-colored plastic septic tanks and is equipped with various percussion instruments. Each drum has unique sounds and resonant characteristics. Membranes of different sizes and materials such as synthetic snare skin, synthetic snare skin with coil, animal hide, and hard plastic are used to create a variety of drum timbres. The sound hardware and illumination are contained inside the heart, combining to creating a massive, glowing heart with a strong, deep, and low-frequency heartbeat. We followed Stereotank as they fabricated the installation, chose the instruments, conducted sound and lighting tests, documented in the embedded video above and process photos below.

Conducting light and sound tests | Click to launch a slideshow of process and fabrication images

The installation was constructed from two custom-colored Norwesco septic tanks | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Each tank was cut to compose half of the heart | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

The team chose a variety of percussive instruments for the installation | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Drum size was determined by the existing openings in the septic tanks | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

The installation was built at Integrated Industries, and received significant support from Integrated employees | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Building the interior steel frame, while shipping containers were built nearby | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Markings indicate cuts for the tank to hook onto the steel frame | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Section plan | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

The cut edges of the two tanks were sanded before assembly | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Welding the steel frame | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Sara of Stereotank makes in-the-field modifications | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

A visit to Father Duffy Square to mark the site | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Determining placement for the installation | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Marcelo of Stereotank tests the sound levels in Father Duffy Square | Photo by Varick Shute

Sara and Marcelo conducting a sound test | Photo by Varick Shute

Stereotank’s Red Hook studio | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Marcelo cuts supports for the drums | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Sound equipment ready for shipment to Integrated’s New Jersey warehouse | Photo courtesy of Stereotank

Fabrication took place in warehouse space donated by Integrated Industries | Photo by Varick Shute

Well-worn construction documents | Photo by Varick Shute

Fabrication and testing in late January | Photo by Varick Shute

Marcelo fits the drums | Photo by Varick Shute

Waiting for its other half | Photo by Varick Shute

Terence from ARUP conducts sound tests | Photo by Varick Shute

The two halves are fit together for the first time | Photo by Varick Shute

The complex sound and light mechanics are hidden inside the installation | Photo by Varick Shute

HeartBeat | Photo by Varick Shute

HeartBeat has six different instruments for the public to play | Courtesy of Times Square Arts

HeartBeat was chosen for its iconography and feasibility, compactly but effectively bringing vibrancy to Father Duffy Square. The installation creates an iconic setting for photos and events, engaging visitors through an accessible, multi-sensory machine with a bright presence. The aspirations of the design aligned with the budget, a critical factor in the selection process, to ultimately create a bright and distinctive presence through minimal means.

Marcelo Ertorteguy and Sara Valente, Venezuelan New York-based architects, founded Stereotank to experiment with the common grounds between architecture, art, and sound. Their focus lies on the research, design, and construction of immersive installations in urban settings for public engagement, often using found objects (or rather, sought objects) as raw materials with the intention of exploring their re-configuration and their sound properties in space as another dimension of the material.

HeartBeat was constructed in collaboration with sound and interaction designer Terence Caulkins and lighting designer Stephanie Hillegas, both of ARUP. Support was provided by Robert Silman Associates, Integrated, and Guitar Center.

The winning design was chosen by a jury of individuals with expertise in design and public art: Barry Bergdoll, Yolande Daniels, Wendy Evans Joseph, Wendy Feuer, Jennifer Lantzas, Granger Moorhead, Sara Reisman, and Bradley Samuels as well as additional jurors Sherry Dobbin, Rosalie Genevro, Ellen Goldstein, Anne Rieselbach, and Tim Tompkins. The other invited finalists were Alibi Studio, Bittertang, Chat Travieso, MODU, SLO Architecture, and Taylor and Miller. Learn more about the finalists through the links below.

Stereotank’s 2015 Times Square Valentine competition proposal submitted to The Architectural League and Times Square Arts

View Stereotank’s winning competition proposal here.

View excerpts from the six finalist designs below:
Alibi Studio, Dark Heart
Bittertang, Heart Throb
Chat Travieso, Lovepost
MODU, Collective Heart
SLO Architecture, Love Is No Accident
Taylor and Miller, Love Letter

Watch a video of HeartBeat’s installation and unveiling in Duffy Square on February 9, 2015, produced by the Times Square Alliance:

On March 2nd, HeartBeat transformed into HeartSeat, public seating that complements the iconic red steps in Duffy Square. The “opening” of the heart physically and conceptually embraces the public while providing shelter from the elements.

HeartSeat receives its first visitors, directly after the transformation | Click for more images

The group behind HeartBeat/HeartSeat, from left: Anne Rieselbach (The Architectural League), Damian Santucci (Times Square Alliance), Marcelo Ertorteguy (Stereotank), Sara Valente (Stereotank), and Em Pak (Times Square Arts) | Photo by Hannah Lee

HeartSeat will provide a place to stop and rest during Armory Arts Week | Photo by Lauren Altman

The transformation from HeartBeat to HeartSeat | Courtesy of Times Square Arts

HeartBeat/HeartSeat will be on view in Times Square through March 8, 2015. For more information, click here.

Process video (at top of page) directed by Ryland McIntyre for The Architectural League.