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Monday, January 07, 2008

Book Review: Diller + Scofidio (+ Renfro): The Ciliary Function

Diller + Scofidio (+ Renfro): The Ciliary Function by Guido Incerti, Daria Ricchi, and Deane Simpson

All too often monographs are an opportunity for publishers, authors, and readers to survey and categorize the transformations and themes within an architect of office's work, even though architects may seldom approach their own work with such a linear or compartmentalized approach. Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) is such an office. They see their production since 1979 (as Diller + Scofidio until the 2004 "partnering" of Charles Renfro) to present as an interdisciplinary and critical approach to the creation of objects and environments that is not dependent upon scale or program. Therefore, each project is not easily separated into particular themes or strands from other projects. This trait does not stop the authors from sensing and attempting such a separation, one that works both linearly and categorically via splitting the book into three sections: introductory essays, projects I and projects II.
Each of the book's authors presents an essay focusing on different aspects of the office's work: Ricchi gives a somewhat general overview that grounds them in the New York City context where they live and work; Simpson looks at how the office actually works from day to day, how they produce their designs; Incerti tackles the designers' embrace of technology and electronic and other media in their work. As an architect, Simpson's essay is the most rewarding, as it illustrates what makes DS+R different from, for example, FxFowle (the large office who they are working with on the Lincoln Center renovation now under construction) and more aligned with the Skunkworks group from WWII-era Lockheed Martin. From hands-on assembly of various components in DS+R's studio to an embrace of "taking risks and failing," the essay clearly shows how process informs product and why the office cannot be considered a conventional architectural practice, even though the majority of their projects today fall under the category of architecture.
The two sections of projects are each preceded by "studio iconography," or images that influence the office, and interviews with the three on two separate occasions. (In addition to these three sections, a studio chronology and dvd complete the monograph.) The first section starts with their first stage set and ends with an installation of toy robots in the Fondation Cartier in Paris, from the duo's beginning to 1999. These years are marked by a plethora of these two types of designs, with some objects, electronic media, and the influential (and unfortunately unbuilt) Slow House project as well. The second section picks up with 2000's Brasserie and continues to the High Line and a townhouse in Manhattan. Basically, these two sections isolate the "media" projects from the "architecture" and "urban design" that the office is currently inundated with. As one reads the interviews, one realizes that this progression towards large-scale building owes less to their unwavering approach to a critical, interdisciplinary practice than to the realities of being successful, growing, and taking (larger) projects where the (larger) office won't lose money. It sounds somewhat deflating, but when one sees the continuity and conviction of their ideas at all scales, it's easy to see why the office is so successful and why the design community is better off for having them around.

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