In the run-up to the opening of The Shed, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and the Rockwell Group’s new arts center in the Hudson Yards development, a 2-week program called A Prelude to The Shed, featuring free performances, talks and events, took place in a temporary structure designed by Kunlé Adeyemi of NLÉ Works. A Stroll Through the Fun Palace, British architect Cedric Price’s 1961 project, developed with theater director Joan Littlewood, was presented in dynamic form by architects wheeling models and items from the project archives at the Canadian Centre for Architecture on carts throughout the site, and interacting with curious visitors. A Stroll was originally presented at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale at the Swiss Pavilion, where it was curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, who is also Senior Program Advisor at The Shed. On May 1, the evening panel discussion centered on Price’s Fun Palace and its impact on The Shed. Obrist and Prelude co-programmer Dorothea von Hantelmann set the stage by explaining why they included this work in the roster, and how its presentation explores the exhibition form itself. They correlated the Fun Palace’s interdisciplinary nature—opera, visual art, theater, dance—with Artistic Director Alex Poots’s background at the Manchester International Festival, the Park Avenue Armory and now The Shed. They were followed by Eleanor Bron, Cedric Price’s concubine (her preferred term for life partner), an actor best known for film roles in Help!, Alfie, Two for the Road, Bedazzled, and Women in Love, and Samantha Hardingham, interim director of the AA and author of Cedric Price Works, 1952–2003: A Forward-Minded Retrospective. They described the challenge for the self-described “anti-architect" to create a home for as many forms of fun in one spot as possible, and to open up science and culture to all. The Fun Palace, intended for the Olympics site in East London, was conceived as a permeable, moveable, gravity-defying open space without beginning or end, in contrast to the prevalent earthbound style of the times in Britain, Brutalism. It counted among is trustees Buckminster Fuller and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and it nearly happened except for a drainage problem on the site. In another connection to The Shed, in 1999, Price submitted a proposal for Phyllis Lambert’s Hudson Yards competition, the current site of The Shed. Titled A Lung for Midtown Manhattan, Price was one of five finalists, who also included Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, Morphosis, Reiser + Umemoto, and winner Peter Eisenman. The jury consisted of Frank Gehry, Arata Isozaki, Philip Johnson, Rafael Moneo, Joseph Rose (City Planning Commissioner), and Elizabeth Diller. Notably, Diller voted for Price’s entry, which proposed leaving the space open with “wind-blinkers” to encourage breezes from the river to waft over Manhattan. Diller recounted the competition in the next panel, which also included David Rockwell and Kunlé Adeyemi. Diller and Rockwell discussed their approach to the design of The Shed: to be forever contemporary, flexible but not generic, scalable, indoor and outdoor, unbranded and entrepreneurial. They said their key architecture reference was the Fun Palace, which was an architecture of infrastructure. They also questioned why we need one more cultural institution, since New York City already boasts 12,000. Referring to the moveable portion of The Shed, Rockwell pointed out that many theaters are meant to be flexible (think Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall), which are rarely utilized because it’s too difficult or expensive. For him, another lesson was from his TED Theater in Vancouver, an annual pop-up meant to be “live.” Here, the architecture does not dictate what happens inside. The evening was rounded out with Keller Easterling, an architect and Yale professor, who spoke on notions of theater in architectural spaces (in addition to being an architect, she has a background as a performance artist) and Caroline A. Jones, a professor at MIT Architecture, who found parallels in electronic technological modes of production in the art world. They commented that presenters on stage facing the audience was the antithesis of the future Shed.
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The Shed, DS+R and the Rockwell Group's slick ETFE-padded arts building in Hudson Yards is a solid year away from hosting performances. In the meantime, The Shed's curators are teasing the public with Prelude to The Shed—Prelude, for short—a temporary pavilion for dance, theater, and art right across the street from its still-under-construction sibling. Today The Architect's Newspaper got a first look at the structure and its inaugural exhibit on the Fun Palace, the conceptual 1960s theater that inspired The Shed. While the Shed was conceived by two large New York firms, Prelude was designed by Kunlé Adeyemi of Amsterdam- and Lagos-based NLÉ Works in collaboration with Tino Sehgal, an artist from Berlin who's also one of the event's programmers. The building, a reconfigured steel shed crossed with a party limo, is separated from 10th Avenue by an open plaza and a short flight of black stairs. To give performers an abundance of flex space, the front entrance is completely open to the elements, but the approach is staggered by oversized, movable Chesterfield chairs. Ultra-cushy seating wraps the interior and most of Prelude's exterior, a must for a initial 13-day free events program that's sold out its entire run. Its roofline is defined by a simple gable, a humble dwelling amid the towers of Hudson Yards. The structure backs onto a site that feels like an afterthought. A café is connected to Prelude by a standard-issue wheelchair ramp, and from its slightly elevated perch, visitors can gaze across a gravel lot where scattered potted plants suggest an attempt at landscape design. REX's crystalline 5 Manhattan West and Hudson Yards beam reflections onto each other from across the avenue, disorienting the eye a hundred feet above ground level. Blessedly, there are public restrooms. Prelude's seven programmers are engaging the public beyond architecture, and a packed events schedule promises to keep the space brimming with visitors. Today, volunteers stood around hospital carts filled with Hudson Yards ephemera, part of A stroll though the fun palace, an exhibit on Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood's never-built idea for a democratic performance and community gathering space. For the next two weeks, the programmers have tapped artists across media for a series of public performances. Each afternoon into evening, choreographer William Forsythe's Pas de Deux Cent Douze alternates with Sehgal's This variation. Beginning Thursday, Prelude will host evening shows by artists across genres (Atlanta's ABRA kicks off the festivities her signature take on R&B). Prelude's pre-opening program will run through May 13. More information on hours, performances, and events can be found here.
There is always much to make one feel angry and discouraged and the Venice Architecture Biennale (more on that later). But then something unexpected and magical happens to save the day and remind us why this event (and city) is so special and worth coming to every year. NLÉ's Makoko Floating School project is well known, but a new one was constructed for the Biennale and floated down the Grand Canal to be stationed at the Giardini. In this case I was not able to be a witness to this floating event, but I ran into photographer Iwan Baan in the Arsenale and he forwarded this to me. I could not resist sharing this video. Thank you, Iwan!
The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced a new prize at a ceremony in London today. The RIBA International Prize will go to the "world's best new building." The selection criteria are broad: the building can be "of any type or budget and in any country, which exemplifies design excellence, architectural ambition and which delivers meaningful social impact." This is the first RIBA award open to non-RIBA members. 1985 RIBA Gold Medal winner Richard Rogers will lead the judges' panel. “I’m delighted to lead the jury for the inaugural RIBA International Prize," Rogers declared in a statement. "[I] look forward to discovering how architecture is reacting to and resolving issues posed by the changing demands of a global community. We look forward to establishing the RIBA International Prize as a new standard by which to assess and promote design excellence on a global scale.” He will be joined by Kunlé Adeyemi, director of Amsterdam- and Lagos-based NLÉ Projects, as well as Philip Gumuchdjian, director of London-based Gumuchdjian Architects. Other members of the jury will be announced "in due course." The call for entries is now open, and any architect may apply. To be considered, buildings must have been built in the last three years (between January 1, 2013 and February 1, 2016). After the inaugural year, the prize will be given to buildings completed within the past two years. To winnow down finalists, shortlisted buildings (themselves winners of the RIBA Awards for International Excellence) will be visited twice by two panels of jurors. The "grand jury" will select six final buildings for a third round visit to pick the winner.