09 July 2019
New York has clawed back the right to style itself the ‘world capital of art’ with The Shed, a multi-disciplinary hub designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in partnership with the Rockwell Group. Opened in April, The Shed, along with Thomas Heatherwick’s The Vessel, has already become an iconic Hudson Yards building, the most expensive (yet least significant, from an architectural point of view) building project in the history of the United States. Situated in Manhattan’s West Side, The Shed has set out to be an ultra-flexible, fluid and chameleon-like multi-disciplinary, multi-audience space.
When Diller and Rockwell decided to collaborate on building a complex devoted to culture in 2008, their first thought was to design something the city lacked. Elizabeth Diller said: "We started this project with an observation. Arts in New York are siloed – from visual arts to performing arts and music. That’s not how artists think today.” In the designers’ minds, the structure had to be able to accommodate every possible type of creativity. Hence the need to create a versatile and dynamic building that could be seen as a perpetual work in progress, increasingly intelligent and functional.
This was what informed The Shed, an aerodynamically shaped complex with a telescoping outer shell consisting of a steel frame clad in translucent EFTE ‘pillows,’ with thermal and insulating properties that assure the quality of the structure. This portion of the building can, when required, move along tracks to the square in front of the building. “I see the building as an ‘architecture of infrastructure,’ all muscle, no fat, and responsive to the ever-changing needs of artists into a future we cannot predict. Success for me would mean that the building would stand up to challenges presented by artists, while challenging them back in a fruitful dialogue,” said Elizabeth Diller. The Shed is an extremely complex in terms of construction, inspired by infrastructures commonly found in shipping ports and railway systems, reminiscent of the gantry cranes used for lifting and moving cargo. Interesting point: the structure of the building was made by Cimolai, a long-established Italian company based in Pordenone in the Friuli region, which specialises in steel structures for bridges and dams, and also for large port infrastructures in general.
The Shed is on 8 levels: two column-free exhibition spaces, a theatre, a rehearsal space, a creative lab for artistic development and an events area. The movable shell extends from the main building along an external track to create The McCourt, an enclosed multi-purpose events space in the adjacent plaza that can accommodate an audience of 1,200 seated or 2,700 standing. The Shed takes a mere five minutes to open and close and harnesses the same driving force as a Toyota Prius. When deployed, the ceiling of the shell forming the roof over the stage is equipped with lifting, lighting equipment, an industrial crane and screening system, making for an ultra-flexible performance space. When the shell is retracted, the plaza becomes an outdoor public space suitable for programming of all sorts, and the eastern façade of the building can serve as a backdrop for projections. The back-of house spaces, which include offices, dressing rooms, storage and mechanical spaces, are all sited on the lower floors of the tower block behind, also designed by the same architects.
The Shed commissions original works of art, treating all artistic disciplines and all artists equally. Its packed opening season featured shows, exhibitions, and performances. One of the most recent performances was Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise: a martial arts show, set in Chinatown in Queens and conceived by Chen Shi-Zheng, in collaboration with the Kung Fu Panda screenwriters. The first great New York retrospective devoted to Agnes Denes, conceptual artist and pioneer of ecological art, is scheduled for this autumn. The only permanent visual artwork is Lawrence Weiner’s site-specific commission, In Front of Itself, a phrase quite literally embedded in two different places opposite each other in the paving stones making up the plaza.
The Shed is an outpost of invention and interest, a decentralised space. It is a contemporary humanistic gothic cathedral imprinted on the crystalline skyline of New York. A place that speaks to the future. Totally unmissable.
545 W 30th St, New York, NY 10001