Ess You Are

The sixth of P.S.1's Young Architects Programs, won by Hernan Diaz Alonso's Xefirotech, has taken over the museum's signature courtyard. The installation is properly titled Sur, probably as in Sur-face. My trip to the museum to see Sur came a day after the big public soiree, so the bright red and gray creature was off limits, cordoned off by those ubiquitous, retractable guardrails.

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My first impression was that the life-sized, physical installation lacked the metallic glossiness of the renderings, one of the persistent problems with computer-generated architecture. The fabric "canopies" and painted styrofoam "benches" looked too much like fabric and painted styrofoam, their clumsy detailing and execution distracting from a greater appreciation.

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A series of urethane-coated pieces did capture that sparkle of the renderings, though in relation to the rest it was too little.

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In an interview, Alonso says, "the project has much more to do with this moment where the grotesque and the horrific...become codified and known." Again, the execution falls short of the design's ambition, the grotesque and horrific becoming spindly and leaf-like.

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A review in NY Arts Magazine describes that Sur, "seems to be more about itself than about offering an inviting place to relax and cool off." While this appears to be accurate, those requirements seem to be secondary to the Young Architects Program which aims to "identify and provide an outlet for emerging young talent in architecture."

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That Brutal Joint contends, "The installation seems decidedly too small in the courtyard of P.S.1, more like an object than a spatial construction of cells."

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With this last point I would agree, illustrated by the above view which also illustrates the installations strong point: its alien, scorpion-like, parasitic presence. Though it does extend into an adjacent, smaller courtyard, perhaps if it took over more of the courtyard - or even reached into/above/around the museum it would be more powerful. But just like Doug Garofalo's installation at the MCA's plaza in Chicago - reduced from its original scope that engaged the museum and the city to an equally spindly presence - the budget ($60,000 at P.S.1) probably dictated the extents of this installation. Of course, that's just another lesson for a young architect to learn.


  1. thanks for the great review and photos! yours is the first first-hand account i've heard, and I'm a little disappointed to hear you validate everything i feared. I suppose though, that the design at least illustrates the possibilities of constructing more advanced, computer generated forms from affordable, everyday materials. Although thats admirable, the installation unfortunately ended up looking like an undergraduate architecture school project.

    I can't believe that the guardrails stayed in place! Is the design really that fragile?

  2. Yes, it's pretty fragile. Parts of the styrofoam are poking through as the paint surface wears away.

  3. When I visited last week, the aluminum structure was so thin that an entire section of it was flopping in the breeze. Really a bit laughable. I like some of the design ideas but I hope Xefirotarch learns to design within a budget or they'll never get a building commission.

  4. This piece looks like a prehistoric bone yard in Orlando.


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