Update: An earlier version of this story misreported that the structure works like a cooling tower.
The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 are pleased to announce the winner of this year's Young Architects Program (YAP), an annual call for proposals for a temporary outdoor installation for the converted schoolyard space in Long Island City. In keeping with the institution's mission to support contemporary art, architecture and design practice, the entries invariably err on the side of experimental even as they meet a brief to 1.) provide shade, seating and water, and 2.) address environmental issues, including sustainability and recycling. New Yorkers and well-heeled visitors alike have probably encountered one of these structures during MoMA PS1's weekly Warm-Up summer concert series, when these spectacular projects serve to elevate the courtyard (literally, at times) from a humble outdoor venue to a visionary social space.
The winner of the 15th YAP is The Living, an architectural practice led by principal David Benjamin, whose "Hy-Fi" is billed as a "100% organic" structure. Designed using "biological technologies combined with cutting-edge computation and engineering," the ambitious eco-edifice comes in at roughly three stories tall, with its lower portions constructed from organic bricks developed in conjunction with bio-material specialists Ecovative. Its upper extremities are made from hollow reflective bricks—"produced through the custom-forming of a new daylighting mirror film"—by 3M, which will first be used as the "growing trays" for the corn+'shroom bricks.
The organic bricks are arranged at the bottom of the structure and the reflective bricks are arranged at the top to bounce light down on the towers and the ground. The structure inverts the logic of load-bearing brick construction and creates a gravity-defying effect—instead of being thick and dense at the bottom, it is thin and porous at the bottom.
Benjamin, a professor at Columbia University, co-founded The Living with fellow architect Soo-in Yang in 2004,based on the belief that "cities and buildings are living, breathing organisms," a broadly biomimetic approach to architecture and urbanism that is epitomized by "Hy-Fi." Benjamin credits over a dozen collaborators in the effort, but Ecovative is a natural partner for this project. (We first took note of Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre's mushroom-based alternative to petrochemical materials some five years ago and recently caught up with the former about how far Ecovative has come.) MoMA Architecture & Design curator Pedro Gadanho (one of the ten panelists who selected the winner) noted that "Hy-Fi" "is the first sizable structure to claim near-zero carbon emissions in its construction process and, beyond recycling, it presents itself as being 100% compostable."
Besides its material, it's also worth noting the inspiration behind "Hy-Fi's" form: "The structure is calibrated to create a cool micro-climate in the summer by drawing in cool air at the bottom and pushing out hot air at the top."
In other words, it will serve as Although it resembles a natural draft cooling tower, the iconic structure regarded in public imagination as shorthand for a nuclear power plant, it's effectively 'powered' by the materials themselves. While the press release draws comparisons to the "glass towers of the New York City skyline and the brick construction of the MoMA PS1 building," I'm also seeing a sly comment on, say, the Con Edison plant that occupies a long stretch of the East River waterfront less than a mile north of the museum.
As usual, all five finalists will be the subject of an exhibition curated by Gadanho and Leah Barreras of the Department of Architecture and Design.
The other finalists for this year's MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program were Collective-LOK (Jon Lott, William O'Brien Jr., and Michael Kubo), LAMAS (Wei-Han Vivian Lee and James Macgillivray), Pita + Bloom (Florencia Pita and Jackilin Hah Bloom), and Fake Industries Architectural Agonism (Cristina Goberna and Urtzi Grau).