16 January 2011


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Diller Scofidio + Renfro

I read an article in the New York Observer (via Curbed LA) today interviewing the New York based architect Charles Renfro of the firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The article gave me a chuckle, because it offers up that their team works well because they work as outsiders with controversial themes and a different mind-set to confronting a design problem. The author offered up this impression:

"Other descriptors that came up in conversation were “naughty,” “pornographic” and “poking and prodding.” “Postmodern” perhaps most of all. (Renfro's) projects are about a site evolving with its context, about people moving and living in a space, interacting with it rather than just looking. The High Line, for instance, makes a kind of live movie of 10th Avenue, with the people elevated above the street, along with the pedestrians below, observing each other in equal measure, an ostensibly endless voyeuristic scene. (This is when the word “pornographic” was tossed around.)”

I laugh, because I'm not sure they are the renegades they make themselves out to be. The High Line project in New York may be their most well known work, and at the face of it, seems like pretty radical thinking. I think it works as good design, perhaps for some of the reasons that the designers offer up, but more likely, it works for some age old reasons that have contributed to crafting great cities for thousands of years. First, it makes good use of elements already in place, and recreates their purpose. Second, the design honors the great public space and embellishes the personal experience of the great outdoor room the work moves through. It reinforces the 'interior sculpture' of the negative spaces that move through the building faces. Finally, it presents a great alternate urban-procession; providing almost a ceremonial movement through the city, while also (perhaps surprisingly) assisting with a sense of procession at the street.

It is a linear park on an abandoned elevated rail line, and I can't think of anywhere else that has been done. Pretty cool. But most of it may be regarded as good old-fashioned city crafting.

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