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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)