Street Performance

Thomas Leeser’s new Lower Manhattan cultural venue is visually open to the neighborhood.

Parking won’t be a problem for theatergoers at the 3LD Art & Technology Center, located at the beginning of Greenwich Street, only blocks from the Staten Island Ferry terminal and the World Trade Center site. The new multimedia performance space by Thomas Leeser [pronounced “Lazer”] is sleekly embedded behind a curving glass facade on the ground floor of Manhattan’s first publicly built parking garage. Not that many of the visitors will be driving: since the fall of the Twin Towers, the financial district’s residential population has increased by an estimated 62 percent.

Kevin Cunningham, who has long worked in the area and founded the 3-Legged Dog theater company—which lost its space in the catastrophe—wanted to use the project to reinvigorate street life in the neighborhood. “We have an investment in seeing the community come back,” he says. “There’s a lot more residential activity down here and a lot more young upwardly mobile single people, so part of the interest in opening up the space to the street was to bring life back to the area.”

Leeser’s strategy was to wrap a continuous glass surface behind the landmark garage’s clapboard-patterned concrete facade. “We wanted to make it legible that this is all one theater project rather than two storefronts,” says Leeser, a finalist in the 2001 Eyebeam competition. “We pulled the facade behind the existing columns so you can see the rehearsal space and the theater from the outside, and once you’re inside, the street becomes part of the performance.”

The spaceshiplike lobby—with fluorescent lights beaming from angled walls—forms a kind of tunnel between the rehearsal and performance spaces, and doubles as lounge, exhibition area, and threshold between street and theater. “We needed this lobby to be sort of otherworldly,” Leeser says. “The walls couldn’t be just walls—they needed to have some sort of transformative quality that takes you into another reality.”

The first of 63 cultural projects funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to open so far, 3LD—along with the Jenny Holzer installation at the base of 7 World Trade, commissioned by developer Larry Silverstein—is a sign that now that the interested parties are letting the World Trade Center leaseholder start building, life might finally return to the 16-acre hole in the ground as well. “There is still nothing in Ground Zero,” Cunningham says. “Everyone who lives down here has been like, Just leave Larry alone and let him build something. Stay out of his goddamn way.”

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