A towering wood and steel wall was erected in MoMA PS1’s courtyard where at last Thursday’s preview Barry Bergdoll, MoMA Philip Johnson Chief Curator, Department of Architecture and Design said in his opening remarks that Party Wall pushes the Young Architects Program (YAP) to “new heights.”
The inauguration marked the “14th birthday” of YAP, the program dedicated to supporting young architects. Pedro Gadanho, MoMA Curator, Department of Architecture and Design reiterated this by saying “it gives young architects a chance to build.” When asked Gadanho why is this important, he responded “people don’t get opportunities often, it speeds up the process.” The program and courtyard context allows for more experimental work. “There are a lot of good architects, but these (YAP winners) have that edge,” said Gadanho.
How can MoMA PS1 transform their courtyard each year with an innovative perspective in architecture while also providing a new experience for the audiences? Caroline O’Donnell Principal of CODA winning project Party Wall was their answer this year. On the evening of the preview, O’Donnell stated in simple terms, Party Wall is a “project about sharing.” Linguistically, the project’s name makes a clear reference to the architectural term “party wall”, a shared wall, to provide common support to two or more parties.
Certain didactics are present that could be applied to contexts outside of the courtyard for different situations and places, where one party does not take a dominant ownership of a space, but rather through coordination, each party becomes a temporary steward of the space altering it for their unique purpose or interest and then returning it back to how it was after use. This is how Party Wall functions and this is the beauty of the project.
MoMA PS1’s laconic design brief requests shade, water, and seating, this year’s proposals were also open to ideas on how to allow programming during the week. O’Donnell and her team were then challenged to create an installation that would be conducive to not only the Saturday Warm Up dance parties but also serve uses for other purposes, including activities organized by CODA as well as the art institution’s programming, specifically with EXPO 1: New York.
Party Wall accomplishes this best with the creation of four “micro-stages” which produces “flexible experimental space” of undetermined themes available for events such as lectures, film screenings, and performances for up to 300 people. The moveable sitting pieces (made from skateboard blanks) are stored on the lower portion of the wall can easily be taken off and placed where desired in the courtyard, creates spontaneous use and social gathering spaces created by the users themselves, whomever they may be and for what purpose they may have. The sitting pieces are a significant component of the project. It has been demonstrated time and time again the success of having moveable chairs in public spaces available to its citizens, the courtyard is no different and performs as a quasi-public space to interact with the wall that also enables exchange and encounters.
The form and scale of the project found inspiration from “turning the typical canopy on its side (forming a wall) and createing shade by orienting itself to the southern sun” explains O’Donnell.
“The form of the wall looks like letters. The wall as text or something that you can read has a relationship with its context- ie: Long Island City’s signs, billboards, and graffiti” states O’Donnell. This viewpoint correlates to O'Donnell's work who values writing for her design and research studio.
“We talk about context a lot and what I write really revolves around issues of context and the various ways in which context has been engaged in the past” says O’Donnell.
When asked Gadanho if materiality is more important to architecture today than in previous moments, he responded by saying “yes, but in different ways, now we have more discussions on resources.” What better project to involve in the discourse on resources than a project that discusses the sharing of space and material? Each party who uses Party Wall has its own interests and yet they compliment and balance each other without detracting from one another, but rather enrich.
CODA’s research efforts included working with the Cornell Center for Materials Research, who presented a wood bi-product from skateboard manufacturing. 3,000 of these scraps or “bones” as referred to where used to create 150 panels to make skin of the structure. “We did many studies on weaving patterns because the scale of the cut seemed to us to be too large by itself. Studies were done in rhino” explains O’Donnell. The structure of the Party Wall is comprised of found steel, needing 18 2.43 meter ground screws and the weight of 3 water bladders of coated fabric with PVC coating and polyester base fabric. In addition to the skin, and structure, the last remaining element is the landscape itself. O’Donnell explains this best by saying “I’m not interested in the object, but what is around them.”
The project involved the collaboration of a variety of individuals and organisations-Comet for the skateboards, engineers for the steel, MoMA, Cornell University with material research and volunteers, among many others (26 organizations are listed on the Party Wall website). When asked O’Donnell what did she learn about collaboration, she responded by stating “many people are excited to give their time for a project that is challenging, different, and makes their lives and work more meaningful.”
There is a hidden message in the project that casts a shadow to spell the word “WALL” in the courtyard, which becomes visually apparent, and is easy to see and comprehend, however the meaningful message is what O’Donnell said and is exemplified in the design, materials, and collaboration, and that’s “SHARING.” Justin Allen (@JustinAllen_nyc)