#220, Greenwich Village, NYC
When I was a kid, I had a few sleek dark blue Whitman coin folders that I spent hours poring over, organizing my meager lemonade stand earnings and lodging pennies and nickels into their appropriate slots, which may explain why I had no friends how I got into collecting numbers. Collecting coins was never an obsession the way, oh, collecting numbers in architecture is, but I do remember the combined pride and frustration that came from looking at my 1909-1940 one-cent folder and seeing those few open spaces that were never filled.
So it's difficult to look at this 220 and not want to lodge a giant penny in the wall above it. My choice for this West Village wall would be the rare-ish wheat penny, manufactured in the U.S. between 1909 and 1958, before they stuck the Lincoln Memorial on the tails side. Plus, wheat pennies take me back to the fall of 1993 when I hungrily happened upon Buy This Used Compact Disc: A Dutch East India Sampler. I recall buying it primarily for the Sebadoh "Gimme Indie Rock" track, but I ended up being won over by Tackle Box's song "Wheat Penny," which, with its anthemic chorus and paen to the ultimate symbol of my geeky childhood, somehow made my obsession cool again. And check out the elegant typography on the back of the wheat penny. A few very rare ones also feature a "VDB" on the very bottom in between the stalks of wheat for the initials of the designer, Victor David Brenner. It was later revoked after the American public complained. You can see the empty space left behind.
All this did get me thinking, though, about how the old-fashioned penny album could translate into an interactive piece of architecture. I've seen so many bland walls of scaffolding plastered with "Post No Bills" signs. What if, instead, you could walk down a city street and discover a giant corridor of pennies, an entire wall of pale blue slots constantly being filled and emptied. Think of it as a more organized, architectural version of the classic "leave a penny, take a penny" dish you see on deli and shop counters all over the city. After all, with people in countries from North America to Europe wanting to do away with the penny altogether (Canada even introduced legislation last year to phase it out - how very un-Canadian of them), it'd be nice to see the penny find a new use. Apart from indie rock anthems, that is.