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Moveable Type 2007

by Ben Rubin & Mark Hansen, 1964

When the New York Times undertook the building of The New Times Tower at 620 Eighth Ave, between West 40th and 41st Street in 2007, the first not designed around printing presses, it commissioned Renzo Piano to interpret the modern values of the information age – creation and curation; access and transparency – in its architecture. It commissioned an artist, Ben Rubin, and a statistician, Mark Hansen, to interpret those values in its lobby.

The result is “Moveable Type,” a public, site-specific installation of 560 screens, displaying archival images and text, divided across two walls, in grids of seven rows, 53’6” long, and 40 columns, 5’4” tall. Developed in collaboration with architects from the Renzo Piano Building Workshop it was integrated into the lobby of the New York Times Building in 2007.

In an age where online subscriptions and internet access to articles are quickly superseding printed materials, the installation demonstrates the impact of digitization. It surrounds us with information, literally and figuratively. A representation of our modern access to both real-time, primary sources and digital archives could have been an exercise in chaos theory. But Rubin and Hansen, who are partners in The Office for Creative Research, a multidisciplinary research group exploring new modes of engagement with data, wrote an algorithm to select a variety of sentences to display from the archives. The parameters of the search yield sentences beginning with the pronouns “you” and “I” or end in questions. The resulting snippets, culled from the databases of The New York Times, represent the contributions of reporters, editors, photographers, bloggers, Op-Ed writers – as well as the readership who have written or emailed letters to the editor – some as recent as a minute ago, others as far back as the earliest issues from 1851. This digital montage of daily reporting, online discussion and archival information illuminates the screens and seems to dance across them in rhythmic movements and formations. It is accompanied by the sounds of typewriters referencing the newsroom of old.

“Moveable Type” continuously renews itself, orchestrating the non stop generation and flow of information to engage, inspire – even awe – visitors each time they pass through its corridor. Perhaps it is the ideal complement to Piano’s architecture. The building has made the activities of the news organization transparent, but Moveable Type has made them visceral.