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Defy gravity with design : FlyNY Kite Festival


Architect Heinrich Hohmann with his entry, “City of Glass.”  Photo credit : Macy Lao.

On May 9th 2009, architects, designers, artists, and assorted kite lovers converged on Manhattan’s Riverside Park for the first annual FlyNY, an international kite design competition.  Founded by architects Hannah Purdy, Aurelie Paradiso, and Victoria Walsh, the festival was open to novice recreational flyers to seasoned pros.  Those who chose to compete placed their designs before a panel of judges including, among others, architect Michael Sorkin, Surface magazine co founder Riley Johndonnell, and Queens Museum of Art curator Erin Sickler.  The top three designs will be featured in an article in the June issue of Metropolis magazine, and all winning kites will be auctioned off at a party in Chelsea on May 28th, with proceeds benefiting Architecture for Humanity.

“The three of us decided that we wanted to do something that was about bringing design to the public, having a big conversation about design in an interactive way,” explains festival co-founder Hannah Purdy.  “Having something where you get your hands dirty and create something was the concept in its nascent stages.  Beyond that, we thought if we were going to get a grant, we wanted it to be something that was beneficial to the larger design community.  That’s how we hooked up with AFHny, Architecture for Humanity.”

AFHny’s Director of Development Andrew Burdick elaborates, “Whether it is helping re-open the High Bridge in northern Manhattan in the Bronx or working with the Kiwanis dredgers in Brooklyn, what [AFHny] does is to make sure that the talents of architects and designers can get out into the community.  I can’t think of a better event than one that brings kids and wind and the city space together to create a really great moment in the city!”


These participants made their kites entirely out of re-purposed household disposables.
Photo credit : Macy Lao.

“I think this event is great,” says Hector Aponte, a Bronx Parks Commissioner for the City of New York and one of the FlyNY competition judges. “I learned how to make kites when I was ten years old and I see kids much younger here flying kites and all of that.  I think they will remember this experience and if they carry it forward, it’s good.”

Brooklyn-based architect Emily created a tetrahedral kite, a design first invented by Alexander Graham Bell.  Her kite is completely biodegradable, constructed with starch straws and paper from a construction textbook.  “I had to build it in my apartment and I didn’t really have a lot of room and I didn’t have a lot of money.  These are just things I got from the grocery store down the street.  It’s a deceptively easy kite to build!  The kite actually used to be three times as big, but I had to cut it down because I had to get them both on these on the train this morning by myself.  I fit one through a turnstile, before a woman on the 1 train crushed it!”


A biodegradable tetrahedral kite.  Photo credit : Macy Lao.

German architect Heinrich Hohmann made his first visit to the United States to participate in FlyNY’s design competition.  He grew to love kites growing up in the 1960s in Germany’s remote Black Forest and has been making his own kites for over 20 years.  Today, he travels to competitions around the world, applying his architectural training to the design and production of intricate kites.  “This kite is my image of New York,” Hohmann says of his design. “The skyscrapers are symbolized by the red fabrics : its three dimensionality, its sunny parts, its shadowy parts.  On the bottom, which you can’t see, it is made of foil which symbolizes the water.  The sky is symbolized by the transparent foils on the top.  It’s just my image of New York.  The kite is called ‘City of Glass,’ which is also the title of a book by an author from New York, Paul Auster.  The book is played out in this area [Riverside Park], which is also related to this kite.

“I’m interested in doing designs because I’m an architect.  Sometimes, I can’t do as much design as I want to do because there are so many rules in architecture.  ‘You have to do it straight.  You can’t do it in another way because it would be too dangerous or it wouldn’t work.’  With kites, you can just do whatever you want…as long as it flies!”


Heinrich Hohmann kills some time with his single-line stunt kite. Photo credit : Macy Lao.


A man and his paper airplane kite. Photo credit : Macy Lao.


Trying to launch a tetrahedral kite into the air. Photo credit : Macy Lao.

Check out more images from the FlyNY Kite Festival here.