XXX Times Square with love

Times Square has a collection of fascinating pieces of furniture. Most of those furnishings were designed by well-known designers, architects or artists, so the combinations they projected onto those objects, a mix of usability, symbolism and aesthetic, blended with multiple possible responses to usability by the actors outside, make those elements interesting devices to be observed and decomposed. One of those pieces of furniture is a set of three fuchsia giant x-shaped loungers one can find —at least at the moment of writing those words— located on pedestrian plaza B (see a general map of Times Square).

I wrote that disclaimer on the lounger’s location because, although they give an impression to the contrary, the furniture is mobile. This allows the Times Square maintenance personnel to move the loungers around the whole area, though an average person will never be able to displace them. Let us try to reduce those elements through their official version first. Called “XXX Times Square with Love,” this usable installation composed of three pink loungers was created by the German artist and architect Jürgen Mayer and was inaugurated on August 24th, 2016.

XXX Times Square with Love was commissioned by Times Square Arts, a division —a public program— of the Times Square Alliance. According to its website (arts.timessquarenyc.org), “the loungers were the first specially-commissioned ongoing street furniture for the new Times Square plazas.” Although Mayer was the lead for this project, the fabrication and installation of the loungers was completed by UAP, a creative studio of artists, designers and architects:

“UAP New York worked closely with J.MAYER.H. to explore fabrication methods and materiality suitable for all seasons. The final outcome incorporates a soft rubber turf within the seats, providing a comfortable experience for users during the summer heat.” (uapsupply.com, n.d.)

On Mayer’s website one can find a short description of his intention and the inspiration for his installation: “Originally inspired by the ‘X’-like intersection of Broadway and 7th Avenue that forms Times Square, the loungers are the first specially-commissioned ongoing street furniture for the new Times Square plazas. Each ‘X’ of ‘XXX TIMES SQUARE WITH LOVE’ can accommodate up to four people, with each leg of the ‘X’ serving as an almost-horizontal lounger that allows people to lie down and enjoy a totally different – and more leisurely — perspective than the bustling plazas of Times Square.” (jmayerh.de, n.d)

But, of course, the “XXX” design is a semiotic game with a double meaning. The X shape not only represents the traditional bowtie generated by the intersection between Broadway and 7th Avenue. The three pilled fuchsia “X”s are a nod to the history of Times Square, where the zone was full of porn theaters, prostitution and sex shops. Nevertheless, that second meaning is not explicit in any of the official pieces of information produced by the Times Square Alliance. One can find a reference on Mayer’s website related to an old photo of a porn theater in the Square and a short text on the UAP website referring to the “plaza’s X-rated past.”

The loungers laying on the middle of Times Square above a pedestrianized section of Broadway are, perhaps, the most accurate semiotic-material representation of Times Square that one can find. They are three gigantic fuchsia X-shaped loungers made of shiny aluminum and rubber. They can be seen and recognized from far away. This furniture’s shape has a practical symbolism that turns the area’s past into a pop-representation of itself. Using a spatial-material synecdoche, one can imagine Times Square’s geography being translated into an image, into a colorful character, designed for laying down and resting.

The intention of laying down, of taking a pause, follows the logic of pedestrianizing Broadway in that zone. The loungers were designed to hyperbolize the pedestrian experience. People in those plazas not only have the possibility of walking and taking a seat but they also can lay down, spending some time watching the sky and using their phones to record the surrounding landscape, take selfies or undertake other activities.  “They [the users of Times Square] can chill with a book from the new Strand book kiosk or, using the hashtag #TSqXXX, they can share their love on social media, tag friends, and send them ‘XXX TIMES SQUARE WITH LOVE!’” (jmayerh.de, n.d)

The hashtag’s implementation was an official attempt to promote the new space generated by the inclusion of the X-shaped furniture in Times Square in a global online way. The multi-spatiality and multimodality study of that zone, one which is transcending its traditional geography, is also a way to approach a multiplied location in a set of subjective interpretations of itself. Those versions are not only projecting and disseminating a public place but challenging, transforming and distributing its multiple ontologies. 

When the installation was inaugurated, Tim Tompkins, the president of Times Square Alliance, was optimistic about the online success those loungers will have. He told the press that, usually, people are posting pictures of Times Square “no fewer than 17,000 times a day” (Archpaper, Archdaily, Architizer, Dnainfo) so, with those new elements there, not only decorating the zone but also offering a different perspective of the area —plus the hashtag— for sure the numbers will increase. However, and in general terms, the result of using the hashtag #TSqXXX was relatively discrete.

On Instagram, it appeared on 467 posts. Six of them were uploaded in 2019. So far (July 23, 2020), there is not a single publication on that network using that code along with the current year. On Twitter, the hashtag did not outlast 2017. Most of the posts on that social network —I do not have the total of tweets using it— were from 2016, when the furniture was inaugurated, with the exception of two from 2017. One can find a similar situation on Facebook. There, a total of 33 posts were published using that hashtag. One is from 2017. The rest are from 2016.

Almost all the posts I watched are projecting the main experience one can have as a tourist visiting that place. Which is to say that these pictures and videos reflect the normal and expected interactions between furniture-tourists-space. This consists of finding a free spot on one of the Xs, laying there for a while, taking pictures from them but, most importantly, taking pictures of oneself. Most of the time, it is easy to find an empty lounger, a free portion of the X where one can lay down a rest. However, many of those waiting to experience the furniture prefer to use it when there is nobody else on it.

There are a few reasons for this. Sometimes people are just shy about sharing the same “X” with strangers. There are other times when the empty spaces in the “X” do not seem hygienic enough for laying in, either because there is some garbage around or there is a food stain on the rubber. Then, there are moments when what some people are doing over the loungers does not allow others to use the rest of the “X”: practicing yoga for a video or jumping around for a picture.

References

“jmayerh.de”. Retrieved from: https://www.jmayerh.de/168-0-XXX-TSQ.html. Accessed October 8, 2019.

“uapsupply.com”. Retrieved from: https://www.uapsupply.com/bespoke/xxx-times-square-love/. Accessed October 8, 2019.