Monday, July 09, 2012


Wendy in Long Island City, New York by HWKN, 2012

Wendy is the name Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner (HWKN) gave their competition-winning entry for the 13th Young Architects Program (YAP) at MoMA PS1, which was recently unveiled and is on display until mid-September. The YAP "is committed to offering emerging architectural talent the opportunity to design and present innovative projects." Some basic and minimal criteria -- providing shade, seating, and water -- and a generous courtyard allow for varied experimentation, some successful, some not. Wendy is more the former than the latter, an iconic form that is dynamic, explosive even, yet actually quite rational.

HWKN explains that Wendy "is composed of nylon fabric treated with a ground breaking titania nanoparticle spray to neutralize airborne pollutants." This is the same nanoparticle that was used in Richard Meier's design for the Jubilee Church in Rome, though there it was part of the concrete admixture, not applied on top. HWKN is using it as a coating, potentially creating a precedent for applying it to exterior facades, both old and new, as a means to protect them from pollution and clean the air. To maximize the surface area of the fabric, Hollwich and Kushner pulled the material in and out, in and out, creating a blue starburst enclosed in scaffolding.

This scaffolding is the second element in the installation's design, a cheap armature for the expensively coated fabric. Or as MoMA curator Pedro Gadanho describes Wendy, "[it] is slightly trashy and provocative — as it uses scaffolding systems, but also a visual language that is graphic and pop." The almost cubic grid of scaffolding is like a fine,wire-like enclosure from a distance, but it never entirely disappears. The closer one gets, the stronger its presence. Its role is important, not only for structuring the fabric and the interior space, but for the way it sets up an orthogonal grid against which the angular form reads. It is a datum for the explosion happening within.

And yes, Wendy does enclose an accessible space. A flight of stairs on one side of the cube leads to a landing and two branches up to another landing. Within the space one is up close not only with the scaffolding -- made up of diagonals as well as orthogonal members, keeping the perimeter gridded -- but also large fans that cool the space and blow mists of water out of some of the tapered projections. This is the last of Wendy's elements: water. In addition to the mist, there are some pools in the northeast courtyard and a stream of water that arcs from one side of the same courtyard to the other. The fabric, scaffolding, fans, and water combine to create a memorable experience. While people cannot literally see they fabric cleaning the equivalent of 260 cars' emissions over the summer, they can see the shape of what it takes to do such, and perhaps even the future of "clean architecture".