Here we have another stunning design proposal for the annual PS1 Young Architects Program that made it among the round of finalists (previously on Bustler). The entry “LUX NOVA” by Brooklyn-based studio EASTON+COMBS was inspired by 12th century Gothic stained glass and its inherent narrative power. Images and description by EASTON+COMBS.
The history of architecture is laced with moments of simple invention that reinforce the link between material practices, social practice, and the narrative of environments.
In addressing the question of an environmental structure for the MoMA PS1 courtyard we were inspired by the story of an old material and its reinvention that profoundly affected the connection between social narrative and the environment. In 12th century Paris, the Abbey Saint Denis experienced a substantial reconstruction that included, for the first time, the use of polychromatic dyed glass to extend the narrative possibilities of painting into the surface of the apse window. Upon completion, Abbot Suger was so moved by the multicolored cast of light and its narrative power that he declared it the ‘Lux Nova’ or the ‘new light’. This was to become a primary architectural practice incorporated in the collective experience of the gothic period and beyond.
Although the PS1’s environmental structure may have less sacred aspirations for the employ of innovative material techniques, the collective narrative of the ‘Warm-Up’ ritual and more contemplative museum installation narrative offer unique cultural counterpoints for the exploration of architectural invention.
The architectural installation is primarily an environmental structure that proposes a diaphanous multihued surface that spans above and thickens locally to provide multiple scales of habitation, both collective and intimate. The structure produces both temperate environments and luminous atmospheres that drift dynamically with daylight. This narrates a landscape of light, color and ambient environments that create temporary atmospheres for contemplative and collective occupation.
The proposal explores the basic environmental and cultural performance of extruded cellular polycarbonate. Polycarbonate is a featherweight, high strength building material which is sustainably manufactured and 100 percent recyclable. The architectural use of the polycarbonate leverages both the high strength and ultralight weight as a series of blades in an interwoven lattice structural skin. The geometric organization of the structure creates a fenestrated surface that produces a moiré visual field condition.
With this innovation, the narrative power of the material’s properties is revealed and attention is returned to a basic condition of architecture as an influencer of local atmospheres through material means.
Project Description (conversational summary):
The story of the rise of stained glass use in religious gothic architecture served as an important analogy for our design approach. We were intrigued by the idea that stained glass was a material technology which was much older when it was first experimented with as a window material. It was the desire to extend the idea of painterly narrative across the window portal that lead to a breakthrough in it’s use and widespread subsequent adaptation in religious (collective) gothic architecture. Hence, without the need for social narrative to extend the painterly surface of architecture across the window portal of the gothic church the breakthrough of material innovation and novel application would not have taken place then.
We were interested in our design picking up on the narrative capacity of color, luminous space and visual field effects to suggest new environmental conditions. We were attracted to the possibility of the architect as an ‘environmental curator’. Given the nature of the site and program we found that the intersection of environmental performance and the production of ‘atmosphere’ provided a real opportunity to construct a dynamic spatial canvas that could be staged for playful, intimate and collective occupation.
The main proposal consists of an approximately 100‘x70’ canopy structure 15’ high. Our idea of the ‘architect as environmental curator’ addresses the connection between atmosphere and environmental performance and centers on nine nested rooms or spatial chambers that are dispersed throughout the canopy system. These chambers are similar in scale and geometry but achieve very different character of social arrangement and mood due the their solar orientation, polychromatic differences in their surfaces, and the way they open to the larger canopy space. This constellation of factors set up a dynamic shift of color and environmental effect, thus bringing an ever changing play of atmospheric and environmental readings to the space and social-scape. For example, a predominately blue chamber may infer coolness or wetness but the orientation and solar exposure may produce a very different environmental sensation depending on the time of day and weather. Given the larger field of chambers and the migration of surface color, the actual environmental effects and projected atmospheric conditions will dynamically shift throughout the day, and along with this the social dimension of the structure will rearrange accordingly.
Location: Queens, New York
Program: Public space installation
Building: 10,000sqf [930sqm]
Contract Sum: 85,000 USD
Status: Invited Finalist
Project Team: Lonn Combs, Rona Easton, Aaron White, Sebastian Misiurek, Paul Langley, Tai Li Lee, Scott Sorenson, Mehnaj Tabassum, Lukasz Szlachcic, Jun Pak, Alex Drabyk, Patrick Donbeck, Matt Krupanski, Adam Ward (photography)
Structural Consultant: Robert Otani, Thornton Tomasetti
Environmental Consultant: Ajmal L. Aqtash, form-ula