Interboro Partners' installation Holding Pattern opens at MoMA PS1 on June 19 and continues through September 26.
You're putting up the canopy that will cover the MoMA PS1 courtyard tomorrow; what does that involve?
Tobias Armborst: It's rope and then nylon webbing, so there's one piece that goes across from the roof to the concrete wall. It's a wider piece (we call it the bridge) that holds all the ropes together. And then it's 38 ropes that are strung from the far wall through the bridge and up to the parapet. It looks a bit like a harp or a musical instrument and then on those ropes there will be sails, shading devices that you can actually retract.
Georgeen Theodore: And they're made out of a landscaping meshing and air passes through it but it creates this interesting pattern of shadow and light. It's also very cheap and can be used in parks afterwards.
The simplicity of the canopy seems to go well with the very practical, pragmatic programming beneath.
Tobias Armborst: It's really common sensical, you wonder why nobody did it before.
Georgeen Theodore: Yeah, a couple people have said: "Didn't someone think of that already?" These pieces are going to go out to other people who are going to decide what to do with them; there's a participatory component to it that makes the space of the museum much more public because now all of a sudden all of these groups that had never heard of MoMA PS1 or didn't care what was happening here can come and say "that's ours" and they're going to get it afterwards. So what we hope these different groups will come here and in a way make the space of the museum more public.
Daniel D'Oca: A lot of these trees are going to public schools and when we went to meet with the schools we talked to the principals and the maintenance staff, and often they'd bring kids along and the kids would get really excited. They got the idea immediately and they knew that they'd be able to come here and look at a tree and say, "That's our tree that's going to be in our playground." So we hope that this will make those kids come here.
So much of your project is based on what the community wants or needs; was there anything that you knew you wanted to do coming into this project?
Daniel D'Oca: In a lot of ways the grandest move, the canopy, is somewhat independent from the gifting process, so I would say that.
Tobias Armborst: But it was driven by the idea of keeping the ground open for these different programs, providing shade without being in people's way. I think that was sort of our starting point.
Daniel D'Oca: Well when we first started brainstorming we had this joke idea to tear down the concrete wall. It seemed so funny to us that there's this gigantic concrete wall around this museum. MoMA PS1 does a lot of great outreach in the neighborhood and local residents get in for free, but at a purely physical level that thing is kind of a big F-U to the neighbors. So on some level, and this might sound corny, this project really is about trying to make connections over the walls, in some ways.
Tobias Armborst: We also grew to like it; it's very nice concrete.
Georgeen Theodore: Of course we care about form, and we care about the shape of a space, but that's not the only thing that architecture needs to do. This is probably the most dramatic project we've ever done, formally.
Tobias Armborst: And it really is almost accidental. We're interested in places that are democratic. So the design of this is very much dependent on, firstly, what people want, and also we hope it will change a lot depending on what the program is. If there is Warm Up
the furniture will be arranged in one way, if there is a library reading it's going to be completely different.
Who'll be in charge of the pulling down and retracting of the shading devices?
Georgeen Theodore: We'll do it. We really like the idea that they're retractable, because basically the amount of shade and the pattern of the sails will change based on say the amount of sun, what's happening underneath, so it really enhances the fact that this project is temporary and takes advantage of these temporary conditions.
Tobias Armborst: The way we came up with that is that obviously you need shade for the event, and for all the other programs that we imagined could happen in the courtyard during that time. And we're thinking, "How can we provide that shade with the least amount of architecture, without putting some pavilion in there that's in people's way." Basically: "How can we provide shade without touching the ground or putting up columns?" And so we just connected the walls with rope in the simplest way possible. And the result was surprisingly beautiful that you have this odd shape that is not really designed, there's no algorithm or something that led us to the shape, it's just connecting the wall to this courtyard.
To what extent will the use and programming of the space be left up to visitors?
Tobias Armborst: That's something that to some degree still needs figuring out because we don't really know yet what happens with all the stuff once you throw 5,000 people in here. So it needs some rejigging. One thing we're really interested in is the furniture: there are some pieces that you can move with one person, and others that you need two people for, and others that you need four people for. And we're excited to see the different rhythms for these. We hope to map at the end of every day where everything ended up.
How much did the need for durability due to the extreme use of the Warm Up parties dictate your project?
Georgeen Theodore: The way that the project is framed is that it's something that has to work during the weekday when there are like five people in the courtyard versus on the weekend when there's 5,000 people. The way we've addressed those challenges basically involves the user, which is great.
To what extent was your project informed by previous Young Architects Program projects?
Georgeen Theodore: I think in many ways the projects reflect the spirit of the time, so of course we looked very carefully at all the other projects to understand why they won and what were the things that they contributed to the environment and what they did well. But I think that we really saw this project more in the continuum of our office and the things that we're interested in. For us Hold Pattern is very clearly interwoven with the research arch and design arch of our office. We've dealt with temporary projects before, like with Lent Space
(2009) or with our very first project. We're also very interested in the process of community participation. But also at the core we're also very fascinated by the city, and think it's just amazing raw material for architectural production. So we just try to engage all those things in our projects.
Tobias Armborst: We looked very closely at the former projects and admired them, and admire them ever more having seen what it actually means to pull off a project like that in such a short time.
Georgeen Theodore: We asked members of the community if there was something they need that we could build for Warm Up
and then give to them after the project was over. One of the really funny ones was we had interviewed the Long Island City School of Ballet
and they wanted mirrors, so we have the mirror room. These mirrors will actually go into the Long Island City School of Ballet. We ordered a number of mirrors and then adapted them to the space to create an interesting environment where you get a kind of infinity effect. So for the period of the project we have this weird environment and people at Warm Up
can enjoy it, and then afterwards they go to the ballet school. This kind of effect will play really well with the Warm Up
crowd. It's some kind of play on a minimalist piece and a funhouse.
Where did the idea for this room full of trees come from?
Georgeen Theodore: This is an example of how the project expanded after the proposal phase. We kind of created this strategic framework which is, we'll ask people what they want and see if we can use it in Warm Up
and give it to them afterwards. And we originally had planned for six trees in the courtyard, which now seems so measly, and then we realized that there were many, many more people who wanted or needed trees. And working with New York Restoration Project we were able to get 60 trees, red oak trees that were donated by the New York Restoration Project as part of the Million Trees campaign. So we came up with this design, which at first we really wanted to emphasize the fact that the trees were being temporarily held, so we wanted it to look more like a tree farm or a nursery. But then we had some problems in terms of the cost of making these planting beds and we came up with this idea of the straw bales. And when we made this pattern of paths it became sort of like a maze garden. So it can be read in two ways, on the one hand as a more agricultural thing, but it also has these references to something like a garden. We thought originally that people would just occupy the space in between. We're interested to see how in the end people will use it when there are 5,000 people and it's really hot. We felt that by putting all these trees in here with the mulch and straw bales, and also we'll be irrigating it, that when you come in here you get this smell of earth and straw, and you get the rustle of the leaves. It's a total change of experience.
There's a kind of inherent man-made harshness to the site, between the concrete walls, the traffic, the gravel, yet you've turned this room into a garden-forest; was that tension between cityscape and landscape something you sought to underline?
Georgeen Theodore: Of course, you can be very critical of the concrete wall, but on the other hand it's something that you can really respond to. So when we're in this space I don't think that this space is successful because the materials that we've brought in contrast with the concrete wall; I think they actually work in a very subtle and complimentary way, like how the color of the bark of the trees is very close to the concrete. We tried to work very carefully with the materials that are there to make something that compliments the space as opposed to compete. But you could also say that about, for instance, the furniture, which is very domestic.
Your design seems very contingent on participation and social interaction to give it life and meaning, more so than some of the previous summers' more sculptural installations.
Georgeen Theodore: We're always really excited by what happens in the city and I think that that makes architecture really interesting. But I think it's also a little bit of the spirit of the time, a little bit of a reaction against empty formalism. I think now people are becoming more and more interested in how architecture can perform in multiple ways, not only formally. We take delight in materials and improving space, but we think it can do more.
(Photos: Louis Gruber)