Long Branch Library, just across the border into Montgomery County, Md., from Washington, D.C., has been taken over by art and architecture students. But this is no sit-in: Instead, it’s a grass-roots effort to show how design can be a change-agent in transitioning neighborhoods. The result of a design studio at the University of Maryland led by professors Ronit Eisenbach and John Ruppert, 16 students in the architecture and fine arts programs created site-specific installations, each with a materials budget of $75, to transform what was a derelict plaza outside the community library into a veritable playland of public art.

After researching several potential sites as far afield as Baltimore, Eisenbach and Ruppert “became attracted to the library because the plaza has never been used,” Eisenbach says, citing the fact that the library’s second-level entrance onto the plaza is locked. “The plaza was derelict,” she says, “as were the grounds.” In preparation for the installation and opening party, the library grounds were cleaned, benches fixed, and railings were painted, Eisenbach says. The goal of the studio was to examine “how you can use [public art] as an agent of transformation, particularly in an area in transition,” Eisenbach says, and how you can create “temporary work and use that to bring energy and an event to the community.”

To kick off the exhibition, a block party was thrown last weekend, where the students were on hand to showcase their designs. This was supplemented by arts and crafts, musical performances, and even rides a giant tricycle that drew local community members out in droves. One of the agents behind the event was Paul Grenier, a community economic development specialist with Montgomery Housing Partnership, who noted that the students had “taken stuff that’s not that interesting and made it awesome.” Students spent the semester talking to locals to “get a sense of what people wanted,” says Grenier, who is excited by the possibility that this could be only the beginning of a public art program to engage the community. Such installations took the plaza and “figured out a way to make it feel alive and imaginative,” he says, noting that “this is urban renewal, Long Branch style.”

The installations will be on view through May 20.

<strong xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Movie Cave</strong>  Located in front of the long-defunct Flower Theater, which itself is the subject of an ongoing series of charrettes aiming for revitalization, the Movie Cave is a dark, parametrically designed sculpture covered in strips of film. The materials look opaque from without, but once you crawl inside, the backlit strips are revealed to be actual film from a reel containing one of the films in the Twilight series. The experience is completed by an auditory component: a looped track of movie theme songs playing from a hidden speaker inside the boarded-up ticket booth. “It looks like a wood mushroom,” Grenier says, noting that he enjoys the fact that “this is a dead theater and now there’s something growing out of it.”

Movie Cave  Located in front of the long-defunct Flower Theater, which itself is the subject of an ongoing series of charrettes aiming for revitalization, the Movie Cave is a dark, parametrically designed sculpture covered in strips of film. The materials look opaque from without, but once you crawl inside, the backlit strips are revealed to be actual film from a reel containing one of the films in the Twilight series. The experience is completed by an auditory component: a looped track of movie theme songs playing from a hidden speaker inside the boarded-up ticket booth. “It looks like a wood mushroom,” Grenier says, noting that he enjoys the fact that “this is a dead theater and now there’s something growing out of it.”

Credit: John Ruppert


  • Sound/Play  Perhaps the most subtle of the installations, Sound/Play consists of large wind chimes installed in trees near the bus stops that line Flower Avenue. The goal was to activate the throughway for pedestrians by introducing a new sensory experience to a stretch of what locals have termed The Super Block. “It gives people a reason to walk,” Grenier notes. “Now it’s not so boring.”

    Credit: John Ruppert

    Sound/Play  Perhaps the most subtle of the installations, Sound/Play consists of large wind chimes installed in trees near the bus stops that line Flower Avenue. The goal was to activate the throughway for pedestrians by introducing a new sensory experience to a stretch of what locals have termed The Super Block. “It gives people a reason to walk,” Grenier notes. “Now it’s not so boring.”

<strong xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Thirsty For Change</strong>  This curvaceous folly is formed from nearly 3,500 plastic bottles, which were stripped of their labels, washed, and threaded onto heavy-gauge wire. These strings of materials were then coiled and secured with zip-ties to make the final structure. The students wanted the final form to be “amorphous, organic, and cocoon-shaped,” says architecture student Kristen Fox, one of the installation’s designers. “We wanted to bring the idea of ecology back to this environment. Teammate Alison Boliek, also an architecture student at UMd, called the project a “labor of love,” noting that the students spent weeks “rummaging through recycling bins in the different buildings on campus” to collect their raw materials. The installation is also outfitted with 200 LEDs, which allow it to glow at night.

Thirsty For Change  This curvaceous folly is formed from nearly 3,500 plastic bottles, which were stripped of their labels, washed, and threaded onto heavy-gauge wire. These strings of materials were then coiled and secured with zip-ties to make the final structure. The students wanted the final form to be “amorphous, organic, and cocoon-shaped,” says architecture student Kristen Fox, one of the installation’s designers. “We wanted to bring the idea of ecology back to this environment. Teammate Alison Boliek, also an architecture student at UMd, called the project a “labor of love,” noting that the students spent weeks “rummaging through recycling bins in the different buildings on campus” to collect their raw materials. The installation is also outfitted with 200 LEDs, which allow it to glow at night.

Credit: Lin Mao


<strong xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Passage</strong>  The students who designed Passage did studies of which areas were most heavily trafficked in the parking lot of the grocery store across the road from the Long Branch Library. They determined that the most active path was a small staircase leading to an upper lot and nearby Flower Avenue, so they created a canopy to engage the stair. Decorative panles made from strips of wood were hinged to form an articulated canopy. Painted orange and blue, the panels create a colorful gateway that not only engages the parking lot, but also mark the path from the installations at the library to the ones further afield.

Passage  The students who designed Passage did studies of which areas were most heavily trafficked in the parking lot of the grocery store across the road from the Long Branch Library. They determined that the most active path was a small staircase leading to an upper lot and nearby Flower Avenue, so they created a canopy to engage the stair. Decorative panles made from strips of wood were hinged to form an articulated canopy. Painted orange and blue, the panels create a colorful gateway that not only engages the parking lot, but also mark the path from the installations at the library to the ones further afield.

Credit: Lin Mao


<strong xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Totems</strong>  Situated at the entrance to the library plaza, these story-tall pillars are wrapped in alternating stripes of red, green, and yellow material. Drawing the eye to the entrance to the long-disused public space outside the Long Branch Library, the installation aims to activate the area, inviting people to come and explore the renovated space.

Totems  Situated at the entrance to the library plaza, these story-tall pillars are wrapped in alternating stripes of red, green, and yellow material. Drawing the eye to the entrance to the long-disused public space outside the Long Branch Library, the installation aims to activate the area, inviting people to come and explore the renovated space.

Credit: Jeff Gipson


<strong xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Drain Tree</strong>  For this installation, the students chose a drain on the outer wall of the library complex that had been broken and leaking for some time. The idea was to “create something really alien coming out of the drain, Fox says, to showcase that “cool things can happen when you try to fix something yourself.” The students gathered materials such as t-shirts, table cloths, “anything that was a shade of green,” Fox says, and wove it together to form an organic mass emerging from the broken drain. Students and residents were then writing notes about changes they would like to see in the community and pinning it to the installation in an effort at community engagement. As a side note: part of the efforts to clean up the plaza and surrounding environs before the installations were put in place reportedly included fixing the broken drain that inspired the project.

Drain Tree  For this installation, the students chose a drain on the outer wall of the library complex that had been broken and leaking for some time. The idea was to “create something really alien coming out of the drain, Fox says, to showcase that “cool things can happen when you try to fix something yourself.” The students gathered materials such as t-shirts, table cloths, “anything that was a shade of green,” Fox says, and wove it together to form an organic mass emerging from the broken drain. Students and residents were then writing notes about changes they would like to see in the community and pinning it to the installation in an effort at community engagement. As a side note: part of the efforts to clean up the plaza and surrounding environs before the installations were put in place reportedly included fixing the broken drain that inspired the project.

Credit: ARCHITECT Staff


<strong xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Chairs 1, 2, 3</strong>  Sited in the library’s main plaza, this installation take a series of wooden slates and makes a running series of polygonal benches—some low to the ground, some enclosed by a sunshade. Painted vivid shades of alternating orange and green on one side, and cooler tones of blue and purple on the other, the installation provides shaded seating for both adults and children alike.

Chairs 1, 2, 3  Sited in the library’s main plaza, this installation take a series of wooden slates and makes a running series of polygonal benches—some low to the ground, some enclosed by a sunshade. Painted vivid shades of alternating orange and green on one side, and cooler tones of blue and purple on the other, the installation provides shaded seating for both adults and children alike.

Credit: John Ruppert


<strong xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Long Branch Blossoms</strong>  Sited just outside the library’s oft-disused upper entrance off the public plaza, Long Branch Blossoms is a colorful series of floral simulacra, made from metal lathe and neon-hued zip ties. Originally intended to be installed in early March, the installation was intended to “bring blossoms in the off-season as an early notion of what’s to come,” says Boliek, who worked on this project as well at Thirsty for Change. With 10 projects in total, each of the 16 students worked on two installations.

Long Branch Blossoms  Sited just outside the library’s oft-disused upper entrance off the public plaza, Long Branch Blossoms is a colorful series of floral simulacra, made from metal lathe and neon-hued zip ties. Originally intended to be installed in early March, the installation was intended to “bring blossoms in the off-season as an early notion of what’s to come,” says Boliek, who worked on this project as well at Thirsty for Change. With 10 projects in total, each of the 16 students worked on two installations.

Credit: ARCHITECT Staff


<strong xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">In Plane Sight</strong>  Located in a sunken courtyard behind the library structure, In Plane Sight used a series of brightly colored neon strings, using the building’s railing and anchors in the landscape to create a series of vivid planes that stretched a full story in height.

In Plane Sight  Located in a sunken courtyard behind the library structure, In Plane Sight used a series of brightly colored neon strings, using the building’s railing and anchors in the landscape to create a series of vivid planes that stretched a full story in height.

Credit: John Ruppert


<strong xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">Babelian Library</strong>  Hung from the brick soffit outside the lower-level reading room, Babelian Library is a mobile of wood frames and metal bowls that throw distorted reflections, all hung off of an apple-green painted armature. The most dynamic of the installations, aside from the free-swinging chimes, the Babelian Library sways in the breeze, activating the adjacent green space and providing an ever-changing display for the library patrons within.

Babelian Library  Hung from the brick soffit outside the lower-level reading room, Babelian Library is a mobile of wood frames and metal bowls that throw distorted reflections, all hung off of an apple-green painted armature. The most dynamic of the installations, aside from the free-swinging chimes, the Babelian Library sways in the breeze, activating the adjacent green space and providing an ever-changing display for the library patrons within.

Credit: John Ruppert