Last October, New York City real estate developer and Time Equities CEO Francis J. Greenburger announced the establishment of Architecture Omi, a program of the Omi International Arts Center dedicated to exploring the middle ground between architecture and art. This month, with the imminent selection of the first participating designers and the naming of architect Lee H. Skolnick as board chairperson, Architecture Omi has begun to show signs of life.
Art Omi was founded in 1991 as a residency program for artists and writers on Greenburger’s Hudson Valley property. Expanding to some 460 acres of rolling countryside two hours north of the city, since 1998 Omi has been home to The Fields Sculpture Park, a year-round exhibition of large-scale modern and contemporary works from artists both renowned and emerging. The creation a year ago of Architecture Omi, under the stewardship of program director Peter Barton, signaled a shift for the organization, envisaging a series of 21st-century garden follies on 75 acres of the estate.
“That’s our green rug to put stuff on,” said Barton. “Right now it’s mostly cornfields and woodland, all very beautiful.” Barton said that the structures chosen for the site will harmonize with the bucolic landscape, and will include temporary pavilions, longer-term structures, and architectural settings for private collections.
Barton has a few precedents in mind when thinking of Architecture Omi’s future. He cites Chris Burden’s installation for the plaza of Renzo Piano’s LACMA extension as an example of a collaborative model in which artists respond to the work of architects in conjunction with institutional support. In another instance of the same approach, San Francisco–based architect Jim Jennings worked with artist David Rabinowitch in 2006 on a Sonoma artist’s studio for collector Steven Oliver. Barton imagines such artist/architect collaborations undertaken with the aid of collectors, gallerists, and museums, mentioning Connecticut’s Aldrich Museum as a possible co-sponsor for projects at Architecture Omi.
Rabinowitch and Jennings are “frontrunners” to design Architecture Omi’s first project, along with a so-called “Museum in Action” from board member and architectureforart.com founder Paola Iaccuci. Steven Holl was also reported to have visited The Fields recently, but no final decisions have been made as yet; the architects will be chosen in consultation with the board of directors, which includes artist Tarik Currimbhoy and architects Peter Franck and Kathleen Triem, who have developed the site’s masterplan.
The new chair Lee Skolnick, principal of Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, has worked on a number of museum and cultural projects, including the Children’s Museum in Bridgehampton. Planners Franck and Triem’s firm, ft Architecture + Interiors, recently completed a new visitors’ center for Omi, a modestly scaled, appealingly unassuming glass-fronted box cantilevered over a cornfield. Barton also pointed to works currently on exhibit in The Fields, “architectonic sculptures” by Currimbhoy and Charles Frazier, as well as proposals from the team of sculptor Pino Barrillà and architect Fausto Ferrara, all of which split the difference between habitable works of art and environmental experiments. But process, more than product, is at the core of this long-term project. Stressed Barton, “explorations and thesis projects are our goals,” not necessarily buildings “in the traditional sense.”