Downtown Brooklyn and the city should ensure that innovative new companies have room to grow through increased—and targeted—commercial office space investment.
The city should learn from the 2004 rezoning of the area, which allowed flexible permissive zoning and land use policies and resulted in a surge in development. The city should avoid trying to achieve narrowly defined policy objectives by enacting overly detailed zoning restrictions and prescriptions.
The city should continue to invest in innovative public space improvements, such as the Brooklyn Strand initiative and completion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, that make Downtown Brooklyn a more attractive place to live, work, invest, do business, and visit.
Developers and property owners, non-profit organizations, and the city need to work together to ensure that cultural institutions, arts organizations, and individual artists can continue to play a vital role in the ongoing transformation of Downtown Brooklyn.
The city needs to address long-standing gaps in the area’s transportation networks, including lack of transit access to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, difficulties in getting between the core of Downtown Brooklyn and the waterfront, and the scarcity of good options for travel between existing and new waterfront neighborhoods and growing concentrations of jobs along the East River.
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In 2010, Far Rockaway resident Patti Smith proclaimed that “New York has closed itself off to the young and the struggling” and she recommended other cities like Detroit and Poughkeepsie where they should consider living. “New York City,” she said, “has been taken away from you. So my advice is: find a new city.” Sadly, Patti is right: Many artists are giving up on New York because of the high cost of residential real estate and studios. In addition, if The New York Times is to be believed, many young artists just starting out are bypassing New York for more affordable cities like Los Angeles and second tier towns where a live-work studio can be had for a fraction of the price of a walk up tenement in Crown Heights. A recent Times article, “Art Scene Heats Up in Downtown Los Angeles” quotes L.A.-based artist Sterling Ruby. “Culturally we’ve always been overshadowed by the film industry, [but] now the art world is at a weird parallel with it,” Ruby, the Times writes, works in a four-acre studio complex in Vernon, California, just south of Downtown. A four-acre studio?
New York will not soon be replaced as a preeminent marketplace for art—given the city’s enormous wealth, tradition, and gallery infrastructure. But what has made New York such a unique and exciting city for the past 60 years is that art is not just consumed here, but is also produced in the five boroughs.
Is it possible that New York can continue as a creative center for artists in all mediums given the struggle for affordable space in the city? Maybe?
Last year there were signs that the city was catching up to the problem and offering viable solutions for the art community. Mayor de Blasio announced plans to develop 150 units a year (over the next ten years) of artists’ housing alongside a separate 500 units of workspace. In this plan, low-income artists can qualify if they make between $29,400 and $47,000 a year, with families of four qualifying between $41,951 and $67,120. Only artists and musicians falling within these annual salary ranges would qualify for the new units. The mayor’s office proposed four artist developments that are currently in the RFP stage: 55 Stuyvesant in Staten Island, Spofford (the former juvenile detention center) in the Bronx, the Slaughterhouse project in Manhattan, and a Downtown Brooklyn South site. These projects spread across the city are important first steps but for a city that needs scores of Westbeths, it is not addressing the enormous need.
It will be hard to compete with southern California’s low residential property values, but other European cities like Paris and Berlin have developed strategies to create, fund, and maintain housing for artists. So must New York City find a model that works in the five boroughs or the city will lose one of its greatest cultural assets—artists and cultural production.
Who wants to live in a city of only brokers and Wall Street financiers? New York seems to be strangling from its own success as it adds scores of new high-end apartments for wealthy art buyers but no room for the artists. The aforementioned projects are a drop in the bucket of the real need for affordable accommodations for artists but they point in the right direction. Fingers crossed!
For 80 years, buildings in Brooklyn followed a local rule: Rise no taller than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower at 1 Hanson Place.
Then, a 2004 rezoning of downtown Brooklyn allowed for taller construction. In 2009, GKV Architects’ 51-story, 515-foot-tall Brooklyner broke the height barrier, besting the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower by three feet and 14 floors. In 2014, SLCE Architects’ 53-story 388 Bridge Street stole the high crown, rising 75 feet above the Brooklyner to become the borough’s tallest. SLCE’s newest Brooklyn building, the Ava DoBro, tops off at 575 feet to beat its sibling.
The slowly rising bar will be soon be shattered by a spate of tall—possibly supertall—new towers. It is rumored that SHoP will build a 90-story, 1,000-foot-tall residential tower at Fleet Street and Flatbush Avenue. It is confirmed that Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) will unleash a 600-foot-tall, approximately 40-story tower at 420 Albee Square. The 400,000-square-foot building will be the first nonresidential high-rise in downtown Brooklyn.
The rezoning was supposed to create 4.5 million square feet of Class A office space in downtown Brooklyn. But, last year, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (a local development corporation) reported that only 250,000 square feet of office space has been built.
Elie Gamburg, director at KPF and lead architect on 420 Albee Square, echoed the partnership’s findings, noting that, so far, the rezoning has produced only residential towers.
KPF, he said, capitalized on a “trophy” corner to create “something of great impact, to really accentuate the verticality” of the building. Though the structure will be bound on all sides by other buildings, the prow-like curve of the facade, visible to travellers coming over the Manhattan Bridge and down Flatbush Avenue, will make a “full gesture to mark the project from those vantage points.”
Usually, a tower this size sits on full or half block sites. In Manhattan, this building’s floor plate would be 30,000 to 40,000 square feet, though 420 Albee Square’s floor plate is 16,000 to 18,000 square feet. “We developed a small floor plate with an off-center core to provide a big floor plate feel,” firm principal James von Klemperer explained.
When asked if there was anything particularly Brooklyn about this tower, Gamburg mused on stereotypical Brooklyn design—exposed brick, Edison bulbs, and converted warehouses. He drew a thread between the borough’s penchant for the past, its industrial legacy, and the cultural logic of late capitalism. “[We have] moved from a nostalgic idea to what the model for the city will be in the future. The office building achieves a new warehouse typology as a ‘warehouse for work.’”
Gamburg sees a reciprocal relationship between the building’s success and the success of the street. The frontage on Albee Square (Gold Street), across from the (COOKFOX-designed) retail development City Point, would be a prominent place for the lobby. Yet the lobby is positioned away from Albee Square so it doesn’t kill a vital retail strip.
Though Gamburg predicts that KPF’s tower will be a centerpiece of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, he concedes, “great skylines are really the contribution of many players. It’s not a load that one building can carry on its own.”
We curate our news section from the pages of our four regional issues along with exclusive web articles and interviews. 2015 heard a lot of discussion on the current role of architecture in society thanks to the inaugural Chicago Biennial, as well as how cities are tackling ever-pressing population and environmental concerns. Take a look at the stories AN's readers clicked on most last year.
Debating Schumacher's Chicago Biennial Criticism Architects and deans of Syracuse, Columbia, AA, and SCI-Arc respond to Schumacher's criticisms of Chicago Biennial. [Continue reading.]
|Cleveland's Jenga Tower 54-story mixed-use tower by NBBJ signals a turnaround for the Rust Belt metropolis.||Rethinking the Waterfront Brooklyn redefines the waterfront as a place for stormwater management.|
|But is it Architecture? What does Assemble's Turner Prize say about the state of architectural practice today?||Assembling a City Perkins Eastman designs a city on the former site of an Atlanta car factory.||Good Intentions, Bad Management Inside the closure of Architecture for Humanity.|
|Twilight of the Inside Another Tod Williams Billie Tsien arts center headed for the wrecking ball?||Go with the Flow SWA Group plans redevelopment of Fort Wayne, Indiana's downtown riverfronts.||
Piercing the Sky TxDOT proposes removing part of an elevated freeway in Houston, architects want to turn it into a public amenity.
With the go-ahead from City Planning, this office building may close the book on the transformation of Williamsburg's waterfront
The modernist chic of Swedish clothing brand COS (H&M’s up-market, buttoned-up big sister) found its match earlier this year when it started collaborating with Snarkitecture, the Brooklyn-based design studio founded by artist Daniel Arsham and architect Alex Mustonen. Their shared appreciation for the typically Scandinavian clichés of monochrome and minimalism (despite Snarkitecture’s being two American guys) came together during April’s Salone del Mobile, when Snarkitecture built COS’s Milan pop-up shop from a simple field of hanging white synthetic textile strips, cut at various lengths to create distinct retail spaces.
This fall, the Swedish label commissioned them again to do a pop-up space for November, this time inside Austere, a Scandinavian design concept shop that occupies a 5,000-square-foot, double-height former parking garage in Downtown Los Angeles. Rather than pure white, it was the pale reds and dusty pinks of COS’s Autumn/Winter collection that informed the space’s overall design, which as a whole is warmer, softer, and ironically less austere than their previous collaboration.
“For us, it was an opportunity to play with monochrome in a new way,” said Mustonen, contrasting the collection’s copper tones with Snarkitecture’s signature use of black and white. He and Arsham sectioned Austere’s massive concrete shell into two symmetrical spaces by erecting a 20-foot-tall wall, cut with two open doorways and covered with mirrored panels on both sides. On one side, a handful of the collection’s white and grey garments are on sparse display in a completely white room. On the other side is its alternate, symmetrical reality where everything, including the mirrored glass, has been tinted a pale pink.
In addition to the collection’s color scheme, the spatial design also nods to its distinctive silhouettes—tidy geometric outlines interrupted by unexpected cuts, like triangular voids snipped from lapels, abrupt disconnections in the sleeves, and entire panels missing from the backs of jackets—with a series of upright, powder-coated steel panels with cartoonish outlines of pants and shirts cut out of them. The designers arranged them in offset processions in each room, which only emphasizes the fun house effect. For shoppers, there are unexpected voids and reflections alternating at every turn, making for an upbeat shopping experience—not austere at all.
October 21, 2015—the future date that Marty McFly traveled to in Back to The Future II— was almost a month ago.
What did Back to the Future II predict and what did it get wrong? While the flying cars and ubiquitous fax machines didn’t quite turn out, fingerprint sensors and video chats definitely did. But one scene isn’t too far from our current future: Marty walks through the town square, bewildered by what his town looks like 30 years in the future and he comes across Jaws 19 on the marquee of the movie theater (the same theater from 1955 and 1985). The movie is playing, and a holographic shark leaps from the building to eat Marty, who is thoroughly scared.
How close are we to this reality, where buildings and people interact through immersive, sensorial environmental features?
This technology, including light and sound components, as well as interactive hardware and software, is increasingly included in installations, exhibitions, branded environments, entertainment venues, and elsewhere. Like the Jaws 19 shark, it brings spaces closer to us through physical and sensorial interactions. These spaces rely less on traditional architectural effect and more on actively evolving a kind of engagement with space. It includes lights, sounds, smells, touchscreens, interactive content embedded in buildings, and even the integration of social media into space.
Could interactive technologies and the lessons of immersive spaces begin to offer new ways for architecture to operate in culture writ large? As this technology-architecture combination evolves, will it offer new forms of collectivity through design?
Starting December 1 in New York City, the 2015 holiday season will kick off with an installation at the Brookfield Place Winter Garden—an Archigram fantasy applied to a
classic piece of ’80s tropical historicism. Cesar Pelli designed the Crystal Palace–like space and Rockwell Lab is installing Luminaries, an interactive light sculpture composed of 650 suspended cubes that will float among the palm trees. The LED-filled cubes, or “luminoids,” as they are called in-house, will be mostly ambient until visitors control them. Visitors “make a wish” by interacting with touch-sensors embedded in three Corian wishing stations that send pulses of color-change through the installation above. The Corian touchscreens are a traditional surface material embedded with technology to augment the physical experience into an interactive one. Designers can also control the cubes individually to program a sequence, making a more choreographed performance.
The installation is designed to be downtown’s version of a holiday spectacle in the vein of Rockefeller Center’s tree-lighting, but Rockwell Lab hopes it will be an ongoing gathering place though the holidays. As users send their “wishes” through the cubes, they will interact with the environment and also with each other—they can watch others control the panels and work together to create new patterns. “Rockwell Lab is about using interior space to bring people together and ask, ‘How do people connect in space?’” said Rockwell Lab studio leader Melissa Hoffman.
Rockwell Lab has four architects, three strategists, and over 20 tech people who are working to blur the physical and digital in a myriad of situations. “In our projects, content lives in a space. We think of it often as live, digital wallpaper. It is architectural.”
Inside the Rockwell Lab at Union Square, New York, small-scale prototypes are scattered around a studio-like space. It is an ongoing physical experiment with mock-ups and prototypes littering the area, from color-changing glass to LED screens flashing GIFs. These experiments linger and offer a glimpse into the lab’s iterative design process. On one table there are tiny projectors that kiss scale models with light; elsewhere sits an Oculus Rift device that allows designers and clients to really see what the experience of their proposed spaces will be like. “We use it internally to understand, but also to have the client understand,” said Hoffman.
Design through Auralization
At Arup’s SoundLab, they are simulating sound in the same way that Oculus Rift is simulating visuals. The SoundLab is a hi-fidelity (literally), spaceship-like space with the most cutting-edge sound, visualization, and 3-D-modeling technology integrated into a presentation space that would make most corporate executives proud. Their “auralization” system allows users to hear the acoustic qualities of an imagined space in real-time, through a 3-D simulation. For example, I was treated to a video tour of Brooklyn’s new National Sawdust performance venue. As the tour twisted and turned, it ended on the balcony, where I could turn my body in real space, but the sound was coming from the same place in the virtual space. The “real me” was moving, but not the virtual stage. It is the sound equivalent of the Oculus.
While the simulation is a great tool for showing off the new building, it is also very useful on the front end for making design decisions.
The SoundLab was conceived in 2001 as the latest in the evolution of sound visualization technology that had been developing for nearly 50 years. The internal metrics that acoustic engineers were using were almost incomprehensible to outsiders. Visualization made visually tracking waves and their reflections possible, but it still didn’t accurately represent the sound in a space to clients. The “auralization” was built using anechoic chamber music that was recorded in an acoustic reflection-less space at Bell Labs in New Jersey.
This reverberation-free music is then digitally combined with data collected from a space using a “pulse” with an omnidirectional loudspeaker and microphone, or is extracted from a 3-D model given to them by the architects. The result is an acoustic virtual reality, or a map of how a sound travels in space. These audible acoustic sceneries allow designers to make architectural decisions based on qualitative factors rather than prescriptive objectives.
Building as Instrument
Brooklyn design studio Bureau V and Arup SoundLab worked closely on National Sawdust, a new music venue in Williamsburg. From the outset, Sawdust was the brainchild of attorney, organist, and philanthropist Kevin Dolan, who had a specific vision for a space that would accommodate a variety of types of live music, without compromising any. In addition, he wanted to make the space a forum for performance, recording, broadcast, and experimentation in composition—a tall task for the design team.
“[Dolan] could say what he liked, but he couldn’t design it or talk about it,” explained Arup’s head of acoustics, Raj Patel. “To get the intimate experience he wanted, we had to have the right reflection patterns.” In the end, SoundLab technology let them fine-tune the performance space of National Sawdust so that clarity, loudness, intimacy, reverberation, envelopment, and timbre could be adjusted by the artists in sound check. Dolan got what he wanted, which is a space that can be altered for both acoustic and electric performance without physically transforming the visuals in the space.
The vision plays out as an intimate venue that has the ability to shift for different exceptional sound qualities, but does not change its appearance; the architecture is the acoustics. “At the SoundLab, we see the relationship of architecture and acoustic engineering as seamless,” said Patel. “For National Sawdust, we really wanted to think of the venue as an instrument that could be tuned like any other.”
National Sawdust is located in an old sawdust factory, where a large, brick industrial structure sits over the L subway line. The performance space is acoustically isolated from the outside to keep all vibrations out and minimize background noise. Arup helped develop a box-in-a box construction that is suspended on spring isolators so that there is no shared structure between the two boxes. The rectangular space was modeled in the SoundLab to achieve ideal proportions for the types of performances Dolan requested; he was in the facility at Arup’s Financial District office from the start.
The interior box is a large, steel structure with inset laser-cut aluminum panels covered in fabric—a system designed to let sound through to the CMU wall behind. “It was important that we did not lose sound as it passed through the first layer,” said Matthew Mahon, a senior consultant on acoustics and audiovisual at Arup. However, in between the two walls is a curtain system that can be tuned for specific performances. For instance, jazz typically requires less reverberation and a dryer sound, while chamber music usually requires more sound reflection and thus a brighter, enveloping sound.
“As the audience passes through the familiar, rough, post-industrial exterior, the space reveals a pristine, jewel-like volume formed by a sculptural composite skin of patterned, perforated metal and fabric,” said Bureau V principal Peter Zuspan. “This acoustically transparent, but visually translucent skin unifies the space by collapsing the variable acoustic systems, vibration isolation system, and audio-video infrastructure into one scenographic element, thus eliding technology and aesthetics into a seamless experience for a wide variety of repertoire.”
Each wall of the interior box has a curtain that can be adjusted by hand with a pulley system during sound check, fulfilling what Patel described as the “venue-as-instrument” concept. The upper balcony also serves to increase the reflection and reverberation at the top corners of the performance space. A second series of six curtains wraps the back of the balcony space, allowing for even more control. SoundLab designed several settings that can be used depending on the type of music.
Bureau V and SoundLab were able convey the qualitative experience of being in different parts of the space. On paper, two different design schemes might be very similar, but in actuality, they could have very different experiential properties.
Small nuances in the shape of the room, the materials, and the proportions of the room or variations such as balconies make for huge differences in sound. The auralization helped Arup and Bureau V create a space that can morph into whatever the artist needs.
Future Cities Lab
If National Sawdust is a classical instrument that can be tuned, then Future Cities Lab is an open mike night mixed with a drum machine circle. Working in similar realms as SoundLab and Rockwell Lab—experimental, immersive environments that are produced by augmenting traditional architecture with interactive technology—San Francisco–based Future Cities Lab is led by design principals Jason Kelly Johnson and Nataly Gattegno. Their work integrates physical computing into architecture and represents an even more experimental realm of interactive architectural design and fabrication; as a result, it is also at a much smaller scale than Rockwell and Arup.
For Bitly’s New York office, Future Cities Lab was commissioned to build a light sculpture that would reflect the company by visualizing its data. The design was conceived in collaboration with Bitly. Programmers built an API (a small piece of code) that linked data derived from Bitly’s shortened URLs directly to FCL’s responsive installation. Each day, millions of web links are channeled through Bitly via Twitter; FCL set out to visualize this data in space.
FCL built the data visualization piece in the lobby so that the immense data set feeds LEDs inside of folded, laser cut, translucent paper diffusers. It is a living sculpture that changes in real time so the CEO can look at the sculpture and see what is happening—when, where, and how much data is being produced. 24 rows and five columns represent 24 hours in a day and five high-traffic locations. “It is a really advanced data scape of the company’s inner workings,” said Johnson. “A lot of our work is interconnected like that with the internet. We give expression to sets of data that are nested in the internet. We are not as interested in freezing forms in architecture, we are interested in letting data begin to animate and inform and become a poetic element in a building or a surface. The data is always evolving.”
“We are interested in architecture that is responsive, changing and shifting, and has an ongoing relationship with people and technology in a broader context. We see that attitude in every other allied profession around us,” Johnson said. “We see it in the automotive industry, fashion, music, video. We are interested in taking.”
He also cites Superstudio’s Continuous Monument as one of many radical ’60s and ’70s technocratic projects from which their responsive building systems have taken inspiration. In the famous set of collages, a horizontal, totalizing, gridded white architecture tears across the horizon, with nomads plugged into the landscape. “We like these utopian ideas, like, ‘How can interior public space and civic space be altered by these technologies?’”
For Future Cities Lab, the best spaces are where architecture, landscape, and interaction design are starting to fuse. “When architecture begins to engage with tech, it becomes more potent,” Johnson said. “Our cities are being handed over to engineers who don’t always understand what architecture can bring. We want to bring that ethic that has been in architecture for thousands of years, and use that as a beginning point for new ways of working.”
Their project “Murmur Wall”—on view now at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco—might well be a glimpse into the future of integrated design. The steel and acrylic tubing structure sits outside the Yerba Buena Center, collecting data from nearby users. Data is displayed as light pulses that become text on digital displays as they pass through, showing in real-time what people are posting on social media. It is a public installation that they think of as a monument or a fountain would have been in Ancient Rome. Their goal is to make the city more transparent by data participating in the public realm rather than hide nested in a phone. An iOS app also allows visitors to post things directly, too.
These immersive environments are evolving from simple interior spaces that envelop and engage those on the inside, into larger, more complex architectural projects that alter the ways in which we relate to buildings, and ultimately each other. In Rockwell’s case, they are using media-rich architecture to enhance the experience of their spaces and make temporary content-rich space. For Arup, the National Sawdust project showcased their ability to use technology to make design decisions for a more sensorial experience, as well as to convey that experience. Future Cities Lab is attempting to connect the spaces we encounter in the everyday even further, bringing them to life with new technologies. For all of them, immersive and interactive experience is a way forward in connecting us to architecture and the world around us.
Across history, architects have designed for performance. Whether we consider Serlio’s scenographies, Bernard Tschumi’s fireworks, or Diller + Scofidio’s early performance works, as Elizabeth Diller has pointed out, designing for performance affords a “constructing of ideas in real space.” Collaborations between architects and choreographers in particular present laboratories for exploring ideas through relationships between moving bodies, space, and time. Within the roster of architects recently entangled with choreographers we find Diller Scofidio + Renfro, of course, and Steven Holl, as well as François Roche, SO-IL, Andrés Jaque, and many others. Rarely does an architect have the occasion to design both a set on stage and the larger setting in which the performance event occurs. More improbable still is designing both twice. Such is the revival of Available Light, first performed in 1983 and restaged this past June, a collaboration between choreographer Lucinda Childs, composer John Adams, and Frank Gehry. This architectural double bill has had a repeat performance, with a mere 32-year interval between acts.
Available Light premiered in early June at the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. On stage Childs’s 11 dancers, dressed in black, red, or white, traced intricate patterns across Gehry’s set design, a pair of platforms. The dancers moved in parallels and diagonals, holding space in energetic stillness. The experience in the Disney Hall was a complex and exquisite recreation of a site-specific work last seen in the U.S. in 1983, and now revived as a touring production.
Julie Lazar commissioned the work in 1983 through the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Stages of Performance Series as a site-specific work for Downtown Los Angeles. At that time Gehry had already been awarded the museum’s “consolation prize” commission to renovate a garage located downtown into the Temporary Contemporary, and he was the natural choice to participate in this creative endeavor. Lazar’s intention, as stated in the MOCA catalog, was for the artists—Childs, Adams, and Gehry—to develop work in a truly collaborative manner, influencing each other while also respecting the legibility of each contributor’s work within an “integrated artwork.” This was a direct reaction to the John Cage–Merce Cunningham approach of bringing together independently developed parts at the last moment.
In the program notes for the restaged projection, Gehry stated that in these Cage-Cunningham works (to which Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg contributed sets) he experienced dance, music, and scenography as “melding seamlessly together,” in spite of the collaged approach. To figure out how he would respond to MOCA’s invitation he needed to really understand Childs, her work, and Adams’s music. So, Childs invited him to her dance studio in NYC, and there she sat Gehry down on the floor and danced solo after solo for him. He was transfixed. Reflecting upon this experience in an interview Gehry noted that he could see that her choreography was architectural and spatial. “It encouraged me to make the piece very spatial, and spread out in the Temporary Contemporary,” he said of his design for the performance staged in the building he renovated for MOCA.
Gehry located the stage, split into upper and lower platforms, within a large central bay of the Temporary Contemporary. He then split the audience, seating them in bleachers on top of two existing volumes, so that part of the audience faced the stage frontally and the other half watched from the side. The audience became part of the performance through the construction of what he described as “people relationships (between the audience, the performer, and back and forth), ” something that Gehry was exploring at that time.
More than three decades since premiering Available Light at the Temporary Contemporary, the co-creators’ memories are no longer crystal clear. It is unclear whether the thematic of the split stage and double grouping of bleachers built upon the doubling seen in Dance (Childs’s recently revived 1979 collaboration with Philip Glass and Sol Lewitt), or as Gehry’s response to site conditions, or to his interest in constructing people relationships.
The two stage platforms were constructed in situ of two-by-fours. An expanse of chain link fence was hung from one of the trusses to define the smaller performance space within the vastness of the industrial building. Lighting designer Beverly Emmons lit the fencing so that it shimmered, and also brought light in through the existing skylights of the Temporary Contemporary. While this first iteration was constructed as a site-specific work (beautifully documented by photographers Garry Winogrand and Grant Mudford in the original catalog), the team also faced the challenge of performing a “theatrical adaptation” one month later on the proscenium stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This adaptation for BAM foreshadowed the new design that premiered in June, and has since toured to Philadelphia and Europe.
The 1983 BAM adaptation and Gehry’s new design drew upon the original doublings—two dance surfaces, two choreographic patterns (parallel and diagonal)—and the split audience’s a perspectival experience of this relation between surface and dance. From this, Gehry’s team developed a set with a single elevated platform; its angled cantilever established a second order in tension with the front of the proscenium stage and house. The new platform, now made out of ultra-thin aluminum, slopes and extends well beyond the five dismountable steel frames that support it. Below, a square of white marley delineates the orthogonal dance area of the now-absent lower platform.
An opportunity opened up in this reconfiguring from site-specific to touring set. The space between the lower and upper surface is now a habitable space from where the dancers first appear in silhouette and through which they pass at transitions in the performance. Where MOCA’s skylights offered opportunities to bring in another lighting atmosphere, this in-between space alternately glows, grabbing attention away from main dance surfaces, or disappears as a mere shadow line, separating above and below. The chain link backdrop has also returned; within the Disney Hall it continues to perform its former function of defining the space of the dance within a larger volume while also offering views of that which lies beyond.
Perhaps the most wonderful architectural component of this performance of Available Light at the Disney Hall was the “people relationships.” The building’s tiers of audience seating in the auditorium echo the set’s two terraces of dancers. Through leaps and steps in opposing geometries, the dancers stitch together the split between performance platforms and between audience and performance.
With the exception of this double bill—of Available Light being performed anew on a Gehry set within a Gehry house—the design of the people relationships in future tour venues is not included in the architect’s design mission. Thus the complex audience experience, viewing from frontal and oblique positions, and the sense of the dance floating within a larger environment, is unlikely to occur in the venues to which the performance will tour, unless done so at the hosting institution’s initiative.
The resituating of Available Light from the Temporary Contemporary (now the Geffen Contemporary) to BAM, to Disney Hall and future venues problematizes the reiteration of performance works conceived as site specific. Although the June performance reintroduced the world to Available Light within an existing space, the setting of this event within the Disney Hall revealed many of the same essential people relationships—dancer-to-dancer, dancer-to-audience, and audience-to-audience—that Gehry explored at the Temporary Contemporary. No doubt there is something lost in adapting site-specific works for re-situating. Yet much gained through the process of performing anew—the essential concordance between dance, space, and music is what shines through in full light.