Wendy, Friedrich and I

Wendy — the HWKN-designed winner of MoMA/PS1's annual Young Architects Program — is the newest protagonist in the chronicles of the cooling mechanisms of New York.

It has been very hot in New York over the last few weeks. Temperatures over 38º C made repairing the air conditioner in our Brooklyn apartment a vital necessity. Its breakdown caused sleepless nights increasing our family's agony. To make matters more complicated the costly quote by a scheming local serviceman prompted me to try to fix the thing myself — I'm an architect after all. With my head pressed between ceiling and appliance, I could discern its model name: "Friedrich". It is a Climate Master model 814, a "Horizontal Water-to-Air Unit ", and some further online browsing generated several possibilities for its type, namely -019, or otherwise -023, -027 or -031. It also confirmed that the final year this particular Friedrich was produced would have been sometime in the eighties. The troubleshooting section of the Installation, Operation and Maintenance Manual was particularly extensive; it described — in five pages of fine print — fifty-two possibilities for its malfunctioning, ending with "to avoid possible injury or death due to electrical shock, open supply power disconnect switch and secure it in that position before operating on the unit!" Understandably I procrastinated. Friedrich and I were off to a rough start.

The history of the relationships between New Yorkers and their air conditioners is as long as it is diverse. It started in the summer of 1902. While working on a plant for a printing company in Brooklyn, it was engineer Willis Carrier who first discovered how to create interior environmental comfort by controlling humidity. A recent NY Times article memorialized this historic feat, celebrating the machine he "devised [which] involved fans, ducts, heaters and perforated pipes…filled with cool water from a well between the two buildings." Rem Koolhaas' delirious diggings into the annals of the city unearthed other characters, most notably a man named Roxy [1] — mastermind of "Fantastic Technology" — who began questioning the conventional use of the air-conditioning system. "He considers adding hallucinogenic gases to the atmosphere of the theatre, so that the air conditioning system would not just be injecting ventilation and cooling, but also exhilaration. His lawyers dissuade him, but for a short period Roxy puts therapeutic O3 molecule into the air conditioning system of the theatre. A small dose puts the 6,200 audience members in a euphoric mood, hyper-receptive to the activity on stage." [2]
Top: <em>Wendy</em>, the HWKN-designed winner of MoMA/PS1's annual Young Architects Program, during the Warm Up 2012 series. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO. Above: Left, Willis Carrier. Right, American theatrical impresario Samuel Roxy Rothafel. Photos via <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page" target="_blank">Wikimedia</a>
Top: Wendy , the HWKN-designed winner of MoMA/PS1's annual Young Architects Program, during the Warm Up 2012 series. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO. Above: Left, Willis Carrier. Right, American theatrical impresario Samuel Roxy Rothafel. Photos via Wikimedia
Since its New York invention over a century ago, air-conditioning has become indispensable to life in the city and its hinterland. On the national scale 83% of US homes are now air-conditioned. "Cooling" in the US has redefined the notion of comfort and the way Americans live, work, and play. It even enabled the Internet. Air-conditioning minimizes dust, allowing clean rooms for computer manufacturers and data centres. At a global scale AC is one of the key ingredients of Koolhasian Junkspace."Air-conditioning - an invisible medium, therefore unnoticed — has truly revolutionized architecture. Air-conditioning has launched the endless building. If architecture separates buildings, air-conditioning unites them…Because it costs money, is no longer free, conditioned space inevitably becomes conditional space; sooner or later all conditional space turns into Junkspace..." [3]
Wendy during the MoMA/PS1 Warm Up 2012 series. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO
Wendy during the MoMA/PS1 Warm Up 2012 series. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO
Wendy — the HWKN-designed winner of MoMA/PS1's annual Young Architects Program — is the newest protagonist in the chronicles of the cooling mechanisms of New York. In a recent weekend, during my hallucinatory stroll through the city's blistering heat, she appeared as a mirage in the urban desert of Long Island City: an abstract, cool blue cloud miraculously floating above the walled courtyard of MoMA/PS1 . Wendy brings together the ecstatic desires of Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel with George W Bush's solution to global warming . The iconic cooling concoction of fabric, fans, pipes and pools sits strapped in a grid of scaffolding. As a caged Hedjukian character, with spiky arms blasting cool air, music, water and mist, Wendy creates "social zones throughout the courtyard, while fighting pollution by taking 260 cars off the road." She is, per HWKN partner Mark Kushner, here "to inspire people to think about air and our environment — like pictures of the blue planet" [4] .
In a recent weekend, during my hallucinatory stroll through the city's blistering heat, Wendy appeared as a mirage in the urban desert of Long Island City: an abstract, cool blue cloud miraculously floating above the walled courtyard of MoMA/PS1
An Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi G4M — <em>Betty</em> — after being shot down. Photo via <a href="http://ww2today.com/20th-february-1942-uss-lexington-fighters-hit-japanese-bombers" target="_blank">World War II Today </a>
An Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi G4M — Betty — after being shot down. Photo via World War II Today
Naming her Wendy rather than UAPS1 (Urban Air Purifying System) — a moniker HWKN also considered — raises questions about humankind's inclinations to name its machines. This typically happens upon invention, when machines are still autonomous and foreign. During the emergence of the Internet, computers had personal names, but so too did early airplanes like the Pan Am Clippers , or Betty , the WWII Japanese bomber aircraft. It seems like there is a long tradition of giving names to complex structures on whose operation we rely for our physical and/or psychological safety. Of Wendy, Kushner states that "by personifying the project the name elicits an emotional connection." Over time the personalities became simple appliances; today no one names computer servers or commuter airplanes. Carrier's first units possibly had names — "Bessie's acting up" — but now air handling has become a condition, not a thing. What if Wendy is this kind of early pioneer, a quirky prototype? Maybe over time, small assembly shops will start reproducing her around the globe; patents will be filed and numerous such machines — now going by the mundane name of UAPS — will start occupying our streets and parks, creating continuous zones of delirious climatisation. As common as our window units, they will lose their personality while dramatically changing how we navigate our exterior world.
Wendy during the MoMA/PS1 Warm Up 2012 series. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO
Wendy during the MoMA/PS1 Warm Up 2012 series. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO
Despite this anthropomorphizing narrative, (MoMA-director Glen Lowry summarized, "Wendy is like a woman — she leaks and hisses whenever she wants!") Wendy should not be understood as golem or robot, to be incorporated within the annals of artificial intelligence. Hardly as quick as Watson , as cunning as KITT or responsive as Siri , and without the sensitive acumen of HAL , Wendy is rather a scrappy icon, or an emoticon. She is a temporal graphic assembly of ready-made parts: visually highly attractive, and here to seduce and inspire many audiences. As HKWN comments on Wendy's relevance, "She is the pinnacle of all architectural research and discourse our office has done to date — and a spring board for new adventures that she has set up for further exploration. Our office has always been interested in finding new ways for architecture to reach out past the echo chamber and engage the public. Our hunch has been that they like architecture — but don't know how to relate to it and are turned off by the discourse surrounding our field. Wendy speaks a language of popular culture — we designed her to be easy to love."

As for Friedrich and I there is still no love. We own a fan now; he's called Hunter. Florian Idenburg
Wendy during the MoMA/PS1 Warm Up 2012 series. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO
Wendy during the MoMA/PS1 Warm Up 2012 series. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO
Notes:
1. Samuel Roxy Rothafel, an American theatrical impresario and entrepreneur. He is noted for developing the lavish presentation of silent films in the deluxe movie palace theaters of the 1910s and 1920s.
2. Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York , The Monacelli Press.
3. Rem Koolhaas, Junkspace , Payot.
4. Correspondence with Marc Kushner.

Some critical input for this article came from Vincent Appel, Nicolas de Monchaux and Mohammed Sharif.
Wendy during the MoMA/PS1 Warm Up 2012 series. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO
Wendy during the MoMA/PS1 Warm Up 2012 series. Photo by Michael Moran/OTTO

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