Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times
They love the sound of breaking glass: At “Glassphemy!,” a recycling installation along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, participants hurl bottles at one another. (No one gets hurt.)
By MELENA RYZIK
For David Belt, a developer who created a stir last summer by installing do-it-yourself swimming pools made from Dumpsters in a semi-secret location in Brooklyn, the answer was once again in trash.
His latest project, called “Glassphemy!,” is billed as a psychological recycling experiment. The idea is to make recycling a more direct, visceral experience and to purge some New York aggression simultaneously. The installation, set like the previous project in a private space along the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, is a 20-foot-by-30-foot clear box, with high walls made of steel and bulletproof glass. People stand on a high platform at one end of the box and a low platform on the other. Those on the higher platform take empty glass bottles and just chuck ’em into the box — aiming, perhaps, at their compatriots across the way, who are safely outside the onslaught zone. The bottles smash fantastically, artfully designed lights flash, and no one is harmed.
“Recycling’s so boring,” Mr. Belt said. “We tried to make it a little bit more exciting.”
He added, “People just want to smash things.”
At a preview party last week, Scott Cohen, a filmmaker, agreed. Mr. Cohen hurled bottles and had them thrown at him. “You don’t realize how much aggression you have until you get up there with a bottle in your hand,” he said. “It was deeply, deeply satisfying.”
For whom was he aiming? “Anybody that I could find,” he said. “There were a lot of faces up there that reminded me of people from my past, and I just kind of went for it. I think it could serve as a kind of therapy.”
With bottles donated by neighborhood bars, “Glassphemy!” will officially open on May 20 to invited guests. The shards of glass collected will be recycled onsite. To finish out the project, ReadyMade magazine will run a contest asking readers for their best recycling ideas, and Mr. Belt’s company, Macro Sea, will make the discarded glass into the winning design. A few potential reuses have already been explored: designers from Hecho, a Brooklyn company, developed a DIY glass polisher out of a cement mixer that is powered by a couple of bikes chained together; the smooth, colored shards created after hours of pedaling are pretty enough to become part of lamps that light the space. Another machine will pulverize the glass into sand for use in the beer garden that Mr. Belt plans for the site, the sort of add-on that helped make the Dumpster pools a must-know-about spot last summer.
The immediate and visible reuse also helps counter the widespread suspicion that recyclables are just thrown out anyway. Though for logistical reasons, “Glassphemy!” will not generally be open to the public — the lot where it sits is hidden from the street — people who send good recycling ideas to the Macro Sea Web site, macro-sea.com, may earn an invitation with the address, Mr. Belt said.
Macro Sea, the company Mr. Belt formed with Jocko Weyland, an author and social connecter, and Alix Feinkind, a creative director, has a history of turning loopy ideas into cutting-edge coolness. Their Dumpster pools caught on in unexpected ways: Hollywood party planners came calling, as did TV show hosts, Mr. Belt said. Macro Sea is now working on a mobile version of the pool, which is expected to be used as part of New York City’s Summer Streets program this year. What started out as a lark in industrial Brooklyn has gone legit.
Mr. Belt, a successful developer and construction consultant and manager — his main company, DBI, has a spacious loft office in SoHo, and works on commissions all over the world — said he viewed his Macro Sea projects as a creative mission, to help turn underused objects and areas into covetable destinations. It makes things on the cheap so people can copy and improve on them. (The Dumpster pool, a concept borrowed from a musician in Georgia, cost barely $1,000.)
Mr. Belt got the idea for “Glassphemy!” when he participated in a panel about urban renewal in Philadelphia. Some other panelists were fretting over a vacant lot that was a repository for broken glass.
“So all these architects and urban planners were, like, scratching their heads, saying, ‘What can we put there that will make people stop breaking glass?’ ” Mr. Belt said.
Then Bethany Edwards, an art director in the audience, weighed in: “She said, ‘Well, I like breaking glass; let’s just make it a place where you break glass,’ ” Mr. Belt recalled. “I thought, ‘That’s a great idea.’ ”
He sketched a design and worked with a Brooklyn firm, Vamos Architects, to refine and construct it over several months. The firm connected him with Jason Krugman, a 27-year-old interactive lighting designer — “a genius kid,” Mr. Belt said — who installed lights activated by the vibration and sound of the bottles breaking. With time and services donated by friends, the installation cost about $5,000, Mr. Belt said, with most of the money going toward the bulletproof glass and paying for Mr. Krugman’s work. (Mr. Krugman proudly called his contribution “my biggest commission.”)
Danny Tinneny, the 64-year-old owner of the industrial space, gave it to Macro Sea rent-free. “To tell you the truth, when they first came here, I thought they were nuts,” he said of Mr. Belt and his partners. But the success of the Dumpster pools and Mr. Belt’s belief in his own ideas persuaded Mr. Tinneny to welcome “Glassphemy!”
“When he gets something in his head, it’s going to happen, no matter how far-fetched it sounds,” Mr. Tinneny said. “He’s the type of guy you want to hang around with.”
At the preview party a few dozen of Mr. Belt’s friends and colleagues donned safety glasses and drank beer kept on ice not in a cooler but in the shovel of a backhoe. Heavy metal blared from a boombox, and Mr. Tinneny operated the scissor lift to get people to the top of the installation, which has a twinkling view of the city beyond. The inaugural bottle was thrown at Mr. Belt by his wife, Antonia. She really seemed to enjoy it.
Taken together, aesthetically and as an experience, “Glassphemy!” is as addictive as a video game, with the added social coup of being at least potentially eco-friendly. But it is hard to tell if it will inspire the same kind of viral reaction as the Dumpster pools.
“Ideally, people will think it’s interesting, and they’ll want to do something with the broken glass,” Mr. Belt said. “If not, it’ll be fun, and we’ll just break some glass.”