After two summers of heavy, clumsy constructions, the winners of MoMA PS1's 2010 Young Architects Program, Dumbo-based Solid Objectives – Idenberg Liu (SO-IL), have created an agile structure that's practically immaterial. Like an inverted trampoline or suspended spiderweb, Pole Dance provides a lightweight, mesh canopy cradling a crop of neon-hued exercise balls hanging just out of reach over the entire PS1 courtyard like cartoon fruits. But unlike last year's mammoth pelt-evoking tents by MOS, or the previous year's Public Farm 1, a sloped urban farm prototype by WORK, SO-IL's design seems so simple, lightweight and adaptive that it fits perfectly into the space. In fact, when the installation is taken down in late September, all the materials will be either recycled or reused—during the press opening, Terence Caulkins, who helped create the installation’s interactive sonic components, told me that the 50 25-foot poles supporting the structure have already been claimed by a wind-surfing school.
That future use makes a lot of sense when you start to push and tug the poles, shaking the whole network, one of Pole Dance's many intended interactions that are all but impossible to resist. Florian Idenburg, one of SO-IL's two founders, referred to the project as "a patchwork of interactivity," with corners and nooks reserved for lounging in neon orange hammocks, a shallow, turquoise-blue pool for cooling off in the middle of the courtyard, clusters of exercise balls hanging in the suspended netting, begging to be bounced, four misters providing refreshing oases throughout, and a sandy section with user-generated audio elements. This last area, a smaller cement yard off the main PS1 courtyard carpeted with sand and featuring eight poles outfitted with movement-detecting accelerometers that when shaken by visitors or the wind transmit sound waves to nearby speakers, epitomizes what MoMA architecture curator Barry Bergdoll considers SO-IL's greatest achievement with their project. "Instead of taking the real and making it virtual," he remarked at the press opening, "they've taken the virtual and made it real."
If a social network were reproduced architecturally, it would probably look a lot like Pole Dance, except with ads. The bright, festive, practically transparent and playful space facilitates multiple activities and fleeting interactions with strangers—teaming up to make the structure sway, passing balls across and over the space, chatting around the shallow pool, or creating a collaborative audio composition. There's even an app for it and 24-hour remote accessibility: anyone can monitor the movement of the sound poles through a special website, and an accompanying smartphone application lets users tweak the types of sounds that they produce in the courtyard.
Such imaginative, innovative and so far successful integrations of the digital and built environments seem appropriately delicate and ephemeral, bearing all networking metaphors in mind, though a few concerns remain. Will Pole Dance start limping after a few of PS1's Warm Up parties? By now the first of the hot ticket summer concert series has seen hundreds engage the superb structure playfully, but as a friend at the opening pointed out: what's to stop partiers from climbing up onto the netting? (Walking underneath it does, after all, feel a little like being underneath a giant trampoline.) And what about those exercise balls; hasn't the internet warned us as to their possibly dangerous uses? Perversely, such potential problems only make SO-IL's design a more nuanced and impressive example of this trend in architecture to bring the digital and built realms into a more fluid relationship. Much like the web-based networks its seemingly delicate but shifting and shock-absorbing mesh evokes, Pole Dance creates innumerable potential applications for its users; which ones get activated is entirely up to us.
(photos courtesy MoMA PS1)