By Neal Buccino, Media Relations Staff
Like the Holland Tunnel, the sculpture called Octetra unites geometric precision with an overarching vision and purpose.
And, like the Holland Tunnel, Octetra has become part of Lower Manhattan’s Hudson Square community, thanks to a partnership between the Port Authority and the nonprofit Hudson Square Connection.
The sculpture, created in 1968 by the celebrated American artist Isamu Noguchi, was recently installed at Freeman Plaza, an urban oasis at the corner of Varick and Broome streets. A time-lapse video of its Lego-like installation, shot and edited by the Port Authority’s Mike Dombrowski, can be seen below.
Freeman Plaza belongs to the Port Authority, and long ago was the site of a Holland Tunnel toll plaza. For decades it had been empty, fenced off and inaccessible to the public. That changed in 2013 after the Hudson Square Connection approached the agency with the idea of converting the area into a community asset.
Today, Freeman Plaza West, East and North offer bistro-style tables, umbrellas and chaise lounges during the warmer months. Visitors stop by to enjoy lunch, connect with friends and relax. Like “Dolphin Park,” which occupies Port Authority land near the George Washington Bridge, it represents the best in public-private partnerships.
The dark red sculpture consists of five separate blocks that stack together like puzzle pieces. Assembly wasn’t easy. Each section is about four feet in height, width and depth, made of cement, and weighs more than a ton. Fine art rarely comes together with a construction crew and a forklift. But that’s what you get with Octetra.
It’s also a masterwork of mathematical symmetry. The sculpture’s five sections are truncated tetrahedrons – four-sided pyramids with the corners cut off, turning the faces into hexagons. Each contains a spherical void that extends beyond the walls to create circular portholes. The holes line up for interesting views through the sculpture.
The plaza and its distinctive new sculpture pay tribute to Milton Freeman, an unsung hero who lost his life in the service of the region’s economic growth.
The seven-year construction of the Holland Tunnel was perilous work, not just for the legendary “sandhogs” who labored in compressed-air environments underground, but for its chief engineers. The first of those, Clifford Milburn Holland, suffered a nervous breakdown and died of a heart attack at age 41, just four years after the project began.
Freeman took charge after Milton’s death but died of acute pneumonia less than a year later at the age of 53. In its 1925 report on Freeman’s death, the New York Times said the two engineers succumbed to stress and overwork related to the colossal challenges of building what was then the longest underwater vehicular tunnel in the world.
“By offering to work with us and turn Freeman Plaza into a public space, the Hudson Square Connection hasn’t just given a gift to the community. They’re giving Milton Freeman the legacy he deserves,” said Holland Tunnel General Manager Enrique (Ricky) Ramirez.
Ramirez continued: “Octetra suits that legacy as something that – like the Holland Tunnel but on a much smaller scale – is mathematically precise, challenging to put together, and has an appearance of being simple when it’s actually quite complex.”