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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Where's Wheelwright?

Last night at the Harvard Club was the announcement of the Harvard University Graduate School of Design's 2013 Wheelwright Prize winner. For the first time since its inception in 1936, the $100,000 Wheelwright Prize (formerly known as the Arthur Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship) is open to architects beyond the walls of Harvard GSD. Nevertheless the winner, Brooklyn-based architect Gia Wolff (who was chosen from among 231 applicants from 45 countries), graduated from the GSD in 2008.

Her winning proposal, Floating City: The Community-Based Architecture of Parade Floats, can be seen as an extension of a practice focused on performance through set designs, installations, and other creations. K. Michael Hays, a juror for the prize, spoke of the strong connection between her portfolio and proposal, something not always evident in other applicants. Wolff described her work—in particular with the Phantom Limb Company and its marionettes—as "dress rehearsals for architecture," a thinking that she will apply to the study of community-based parade floats in Brazil, India, France, Italy and Spain.

So, in the vein of "Where's Waldo," where's Wheelwright Prize winner Gia Wolff in this photo of the Gordon Reading Room?

[Click photo for answer.]

In his remarks, GSD Dean Mohsen Mostafavi pointed out something that separates the Wheelwright Prize from others (such as Wash U's Steedman, which I've entered a few times but never won): The prize does not require any outcome; it does not require anything to be produced. Wolff does not have to make a book, give a lecture, do anything based on her travels. But Mostafavi said this means the "gift" has "incredible ethical values." At the least, Wolff's travels will inform her practice; beyond that, it could produce just the things that the prize does not require.

We'll have to wait and see what comes of Wolff's travels, though Storefront for Art and Architecture director Eva Franch i Gilabert had a good idea: When she's done in two years, Wolff should come knocking on one of the Storefront's panels and propose something for the next IDEAS CITY, since there is a synergy between the way large-scale parade floats activate the streets of cities and what the biennial festival is trying to accomplish.

[The stair hall outside of the Gordon Reading Room. This was my first—and, who knows, maybe my last—time visiting the Harvard Club.]

Wolff's Floating City proposal is very intriguing, especially framed through images she showed of floats that approach the size of buildings. Below is a section of a video that really gets across the scale and performance aspects of Rio's Carneval, one of the places where Wolff will be traveling.

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