Imagine a warm summer evening in Rome. Then imagine stretching out on a cool, grass lawn underneath giant Jurassic tulips the size of a cherry tree. Their glow softly illuminates conversations over cocktails. Add a backdrop of the serpentine jewel of Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI museum, and you have theater. Rome is all about theater. So was the scene at the opening of the Young Architects Program installation at Rome’s one year old museum of art and architecture. Five young European firms were chosen as finalists by the MAXXI in collaboration with MoMA PS1's Young Architect's Program. The winner in Rome, stARTT Architects, installed 2000 square feet of luscious grass mini-hills inclined perfectly for reclining, so you can sdraiarsi, an untranslatable Roman manner of stretching out. Topping the hills are 20 or so three-foot wide tulips, each atop a six-foot curved stem. Semi-transparent red resin tulip-like flowers--a bit in the style of Avatar--light up in the evening and offer a bit of shade during the day. Mario Mattia, the resident architect in Rome for Hadid, had suggested a green space for the 12,000 square foot plaza court, drawing inspiration from a visit to the green lawn of Bryant Park beside the grand 42nd Street New York Public Library. But cut concrete paths and organized gravel won out--until now. Given a choice, humans gravitate toward the living and the green. StARTT architects managed to incorporate both elements into this built setting. So what did the user audience say about the installation on opening night? Papavere gigante! ("giant poppies!" omnipresent in the hills of Rome) and martini rossi! (martini glass-shaped flowers missing only the maraschino cherry). The giant tulips gently tilted your view upward to the rich evening turquoise of the Mediterranean sky, as you lay grounded on the refreshing islands of grass. A temporary installation? To quote another Roman, the emperor Hadrian: “Be attentive to the temporary, as it often becomes the permanent." Magari! (We hope so.)
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P.S. 1 and the Museum of Modern Art have just announced that Brooklyn-based urban design and planning firm Interboro Partners are the winners of the 2011 Young Architects Program. Now celebrating its 12th year, the honor means designing what by now is widely recognized as the liveliest party space of the summer, the outdoor plaza of P.S. 1 in Queens. “Simple materials that transform a space to create a kind of public living room and rec room are trademarks of this young Brooklyn firm,” said Barry Bergdoll, MoMa’s Philip Johnson chief curator. “Interboro is interested in creating elegant and unpretentious spaces with common materials. Their work has both a modesty and a commitment quite at odds with the luxury and complex computer-generated form that has prevailed in the city in recent years.” The firm has also been selected this year as one of the eight firms participating in the Emerging Voices series at the Architectural League. Much of their work focuses on urban challenges, from completing a neighborhood development plan for Newark, the first in decades, to a temporary park at Canal and Varick streets, Lent Space, with mobile trees, seating and walls. Meanwhile, in Rome, a companion program called YAP_MAXXI in an outdoor space at the entrance of the new Zaha Hadid-designed museum, was also launched. Roman architects, stARTT, have been selected as the first-up in a partnership between MoMA P.S. 1 and the overseas institution, a model of a collaboration that could easily expand to other countries in no time. StARTT’s entry “Whatami” appears to be a series of discrete and turf-covered hillocks with Hadid-like curves constructed of various recyclable materials including straw, geo-textiles, and plastic. Recycling, in fact, was a key theme this year as Interboro also canvassed local libraries, greenmarkets, senior and daycare centers to see who might be able to use the rope and other materials when summer is over.