Pole-Dancing at P.S. 1: SO-IL Wins 2010 Courtyard Installation Amid Controversy

Brooklyn studio SO-IL beats out Danish juggernaut BIG in battle over a tiny gravel triangle in Queens. [UPDATED]

P.S. 1


Last year it was MOS, this year it’s SO-IL. If there’s one thing architects love more than acronyms, it’s weird references to nature. Which is exactly what the MoMA off-shoot P.S. 1’s Young Architects Program is about: Every summer since 2000, the museum has picked an up-and-coming studio to redesign its barren, concrete-walled triangular courtyard in Long Island City, Brooklyn, as a riff on water and an oasis from the city. Also, it’s one hell of a summertime party for NYC. So we got WORKac‘s farm in 2008, MOS’s volcanoes in 2009, and this June… a trampoline strip club.

Most see the Young Architects Program as a launchpad for the careers of tiny, experimental studios like SHoP, which won as a four-year-old firm in 2000 and now boasts a staff of 65 and major projects like the Atlantic Yards development. So it was a shock when P.S. 1 announced this year’s finalists: Two-year-old SO-IL was up against two other Brooklyn studios (Easton+Combs and Freecell), one from Cambridge, Massachusetts (William O’Brien Jr.), and BIG. That’s Bjarke Ingels Group, a 76-person Copenhagen powerhouse known for outlandish projects like the National Library of Kazakhstan, the 230-unit VM housing block in Copenhagen, and the Danish 2010 Expo pavilion.

In a competition meant for rising stars and historically only won by American studios (predominantly from New York, though three have been from LA), did BIG belong? Sources close to the competition told us that some of Bjarke Ingels friends actually asked him to withdraw from the contest, even as his studio began prematurely proclaiming their victory. He didn’t. As in all competitions–architectural ones especially–inside politics can make all the difference. And though we don’t know for sure, they may explain BIG’s inclusion–and its 11th-hour loss to SO-IL.

Regardless, the proposal looks great. Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu, the husband-and-wife team behind SO-IL (another thing architects love, apparently, is working with their spouses: MOS and WORKac are run by couples, too) will fill the courtyard with 100, 25-foot-tall fiberglass poles that hold up a giant, floppy net in a project they call Pole Dance. The poles bend in the breeze and the net bucks and sways, bouncing giant rubber balls around above the summer partiers below. Its $85,000 budget is a bit of a raise from last year’s $70,000, but it’s still a small price to pay for fixing up that dismal courtyard.

Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of MoMA’s architecture and design department, said in a press release that (brace for archi-babble), “Here the net is literal and physical, the space tangible, the encounters unprogrammable.” In other words, it’s a Dr. Seuss basketball game with no rules. Which is just fine. As Architect’s Newspaper points out, it’s the most free-form courtyard installation yet, and even though we loved WORKac’s Public Farm One, tending to chickens wasn’t everyone’s idea of easy summertime fun, and last year’s volcanoes seem a little menacing on second thought. Bouncing exercise balls around on a trampoline is something everyone can get behind–no matter how highfalutin the theories inflating it, or how political the reasons behind its choice.



UPDATE: Check out this awesome little video that just surfaced, showing how Pole Dance will look in person. Weird music choice, but who cares–we are so pumped.