A mock up of one of the bench designs. Bronx River Art Center

Public benches to be installed on Hunts Point’s industrial waterfront

A mockup of one of new bench designs coming to Oak Point Avenue on the Hunts Point waterfront. Bronx River Art Center

Hunts Point’s waterfront will soon be home to a new public design project aimed at helping pedestrians and workers sit back and take a load off their feet.

Three uniquely designed benches designed by four Bronx art students will be built and placed along at 50 Oak Point Avenue near the site of McInnis Cement Terminal, the Canadian company that commissioned the project.

The team of students is called the Teen Project Studio, which recently changed its name to include “+2.0” as the Bronx River Art Center program they are part of expanded to include young adults up to 26. The team is now focusing on the fabrication process of the benches. 

Some 25 people listened to a panel discussion at the Bronx Art Center on Sept. 9, featuring former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, Dr. Paul Mankiewicz, Director of the Gaia Institute, and Barbara Dolensek, Administrator of City Island Nautical Museum, among others. During the panel, the Art Center revealed the designs for the Teen Project Studio’s Hunts Point commission, the team’s first. 

Carrión said that this kind of initiative is important for the Bronx to continue cleaning up its environment.

“We’re sitting right next to the Bronx River,” he said, “The Bronx River that even 30, 40 years ago—less than that—was filthy. The kids in the neighborhood couldn’t play in it.”

But communities have worked together over the years to clean the river, he said. That’s why residents are responsible for creating the changes they want to see instead of playing clean-up later, he added. 

Ukari Bakosi, who lives in Pelham Gardens, is the team member in charge of the budget to build the furniture. The Bronx native has always been interested in art, starting with animation in middle school to drawing to short films during his undergraduate study at Hunter College. Without realizing it, each summer spent with BRAC pulled him closer to interior design.   

“The whole idea of the program is to not only introduce them to the design field, which shows they can be more than a poor starving artist,” said Gail Nathan, the art center’s executive director. “But that they can also apply their talents to the design field and produce products.”

The summer of his freshman year in college, Bakosi was one of the program’s students, designing a bench for fun. But then one day, Nathan had news: a group of designers selected their long-forgotten bench design for the waterfront project. Nicknamed “The Legacy,” the design became the prototype for the team’s first commission.

The art therapy graduate student suddenly found himself in a whirlwind of planning, working for four months just to finalize the initial three designs. When it was time to discuss materials, Bakosi was put in charge of the budget.

“Is this too much? Is this too little? I don’t know, it’s my first time!” He said, laughing.

The least expensive design, a blue and orange loveseat inspired by the colors of the Bronx flag, that cost an estimated $3000, said Teen Project Studio instructor Art Jones. The most expensive? A piano design, expected to cost around $5,500.

As the teacher of the Teen Project participants, who ranged from high school students to graduate students, Jones was responsible for keeping the group aware of practical considerations.

“A constant consideration, of course, is material, because we’re so close to the water,” he said. “Certain types of wood just wouldn’t be possible.”

The group ultimately decided on three bench designs, bridging the gap between aesthetic and function. Another, influenced by the pebbles common at the cement terminal, mimics their shape and color, turning little details into celebrated features.

When Hunts Point residents sit on the piano bench, Art Jones wants them to remember their culture.

“I believe that placing objects in communities becomes a way for people to reflect on the history of that area,” he said. In the South Bronx, that history is rife with Mambo beats and brave Jazz and Salsa, he said, hence the piano.

All three designs will be installed after proper manufacturers and materials are found, said Jones said, hopefully before fall ends.

Bakosi has been Jones’ student almost every summer since his freshman year of college. The feeling of making his first commission still hasn’t sunk in.

“I still have this sense like is this really happening,” he said. “Someone is really trusting me with thousands of dollars to make something for them.”

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