written, directed, filmed together with Sonia Sobrino Ralston

Coney Island 2019
exhibited at the 12th International Architecture Biennial in Sao Paul, 2019, as part of ‘Liquid Landscapes”, curated by Mario Gandelsonas and Curt Gambetta

On the banks of Coney Island Creek on the northern tip of Coney Island, a derelict pumphouse stands at the center of a vibrant community garden. The oval-shaped Art Moderne pumphouse replete with motifs of water droplets was constructed in 1937 to replace an older station that had failed during a fire in the area. Closed in the 1970s and sealed ever since, the pumphouse has fallen into disrepair. When the pumphouse failed to be added to the heritage register in the 1980s, a group from the surrounding neighborhood came together to develop a garden in the lot surrounding the building. The 23rd Street Community Garden, or Seeds of Life, has been successfully run by volunteers from the community for over 20 years and is not only a source of fresh produce, but also the site for socializing and gathering throughout the year. Despite being on the site of a former pumphouse, however, the water in the garden is exclusively provided by a fire hydrant on the south eastern corner of the site. With an intricate system of hoses split and extended across the garden, rainwater and water from the hydrant are collected in barrels across the site. Despite the limits of the hoses, thriving crops of corn, string beans, and tomatoes grow in abundance. The juxtaposition of derelict, decommissioned water infrastructure and its effective ad hoc counterpart illustrate not only the obsolescence of planned infrastructural work, but also the ability of ad hoc infrastructures to adapt to shifting occupancy. But the relationship between the two is a double-edged sword; without the city-owned land at the pumphouse, the community garden would have no space to operate, but without the garden the city would have to maintain the lot. The absurdity of the pumphouses’ inability to provide water for recreational purposes despite its design being especially developed to pump water parallels the absurdity of the city’s calculated decisions to provide services to residents, and residents’ lived experiences that ultimately shape the city instead.


© Copyright Simon Lesina-Debiasi 2020