Diller Scofidio + Renfro spoke last night to a packed audience of architects, interested architects, professors, and other people from the public.  The firm illustrates a way of working that is tightly interconnected to politics, economics, and the real life observations of our society and culture.  They have their two fingers to the neck of the world, taking pulse, and then like a good doctor, providing interventions, remedies, or medications that illustrate the observation and then reposition it.  It is more in their delivery – the way the building is designed, constructed, and built – that their message comes to be heard than any reliance on fabricated maps or statistical logic. ; these are architects who are engaged in these types of conversations, thus when they say views from high places are what most poor people of the Rio de Janeiro lack, we take their word for it.  In this particular project, views to the beach and the surrounding city are interspersed throughout the ascending stair.  Their work uses a variety of techniques, including “visual tactility,” as I have coined it, a kind of hairiness that we have seen before in Rawhide by Jason Payne or the UK Shanghai Pavilion by Heatherwick Studio.

From their work, we see them repositioning the architect as one who creates cultural catalysts, who through physical insertions in the city, creates places where people interact, see their city in different ways, or understand the lives and operations of institutions, economics, or politics.  Particularly reinforcing this idea is their “Culture Shed” project, which for the City of New York on the Hudson Yards, envisions a building able to expand or contract depending on the institution’s ability to afford space.  This project, clientless, illustrates an architect envisioning projects that respond to institutions, economics, and politics, in this case, in a very physical way.  As part of their work for Culture Shed, they have began to investigate global times shares and rotating exhibits, which provide this physical object with enough flow to sustain it, yet also intertwining the physical with the invisible flows of people, money, art, and institutions.  In another example, in the Eli Broad Museum in Bunker Hill, Los Angeles, we see the architect using the institution’s artifacts, and dispersing them throughout the local city, to create greater physical connections to the new museum’s physical manifestation.  In  many ways, we are seeing a Diller Scofidio + Renfro promoting new types of services architects employ, including rethinking organizations, connecting with other institutions, and rebranding, all of which come to reinforce the physical architecture.

Elizabeth Diller ended with the High Line project in New York.  Their thought of “introducing New Yorkers to the idea of doing nothing” positions their design work, as paradoxically as it sounds, at a deeper position that that of say, “making a public park for the city.”  They are thinking of society and culture and position their work in this light.

Their expression of 5% inspiration, 95% perspiration is valid and is worth considering in the context of project process.  Although Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Site Operations partnered to win this project, it is easy to tell that James Corner had a heavy hand in the ecological design ideas.  From a lengthy discussion with a colleague of mine, we discussed that the architect who is the “enabler,” almost always gets the credit for the “design.”  We, in the profession, talk about “design” with respect, one of the most admired acts of the architect.  But what we don’t talk about is the “creative” networking, persuasion, selling, debating that occurs throughout the process of pushing a project through, and to this, Diller Scofidio + Renfro probably deserves a good deal of credit, maybe even the project’s credit to the name of the High Line.

As we continue to position our own work, whether we agree with Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s work or not, we can indeed learn the importance of taking pulse – the economic, cultural, and societal flow of the world – and in doing so, react and intervene in new and powerful ways.

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