'the shed' cultural venue by DS+R and rockwell group moves towards completion in new york

May 25, 2017
with the completion of its enormous steel frame, 'the shed' -- new york's vast and versatile cultural complex -- is racing towards realization. designed by diller scofidio + renfro in collaboration with rockwell group, the institution is currently under construction where the high line meets hudson yards, and is scheduled to open in spring 2019. the finalization of the building's steel installation coincides with the announcement of a $75 million USD gift from bloomberg philanthropies, 12 years after former mayor michael bloomberg rezoned the entire area for new development.
designboom was in attendance as daniel l. doctoroff, the shed's chairman of the board of directors, and alex poots, the shed's founding artistic director, welcomed members of the press to the site for the first time.

conceived as an 'architecture of infrastructure', the shed has been designed to physically change at will. the project's architects, led by liz diller of DS+R and david rockwell of rockwell group, have designed a 200,000 square-foot venue that comprises a permanent base structure and a telescoping outer shell, which can be deployed over the adjoining plaza. this enables the institution to create an adaptable 17,000 square-foot hall that is light, sound, and temperature controlled.

when deployed, the ceiling of the shed acts a theatrical deck, allowing for rigging across the entire volume of space above performers and audiences, as well as light and sound control. when the space is not needed, the shell can nest over the base building, freeing the plaza for outdoor use and programming. the base building contains: two expansive, column-free galleries totaling 25,000 square feet; a 500-seat black-box theater that can be subdivided into more intimate spaces; event and rehearsal areas; and a creative lab that will be provided free to early-career local artists.

the movable shell, which will eventually weigh more than 4,000 tons, travels on a double-wheel track based on gantry crane technology commonly found in shipping ports. using roughly the same amount of horsepower as a toyota prius, a rack-and-pinion drive moves the shell on four single-axle and two double-axle bogie wheels that each measure six feet in diameter. moving at a speed of a quarter of a mile per hour, deployment takes just five minutes.

with the exposed steel diagrid frame complete, attention now turns to its cladding -- translucent pillows of ethylene tetrafluroethylene (ETFE), a durable and lightweight teflon-based polymer. the material offers the thermal properties of insulating glass at a fraction of the weight, and allows light to pass through, while minimizing sound transfer. the ETFE panels are some of the largest ever produced, measuring almost 70 feet long in some areas.

the opportunity to design a ground-up building for the arts forced the question, 'what will art look like in the next 10 years? 20 years, and beyond?', said liz diller at the press briefing in new york. 'the answer was that we simply could not know. all that we could be certain of was that there would always be a need for conditioned space of different heights and sizes, a need for structural loading capacity, and a need for electrical power. the solution was, an architecture of infrastructure.'

'the reference was the 'fun palace', a 1960s unbuilt project by cedric price,' continued diller, whose firm also designed the adjacent high line. 'the telescoping outer shell is a giant fly loft that can be shared by audience and performers. it can be used for large-scale projects of all different types, and it's indoor and outdoor space. there is no need to have it out all the time, so it doesn't have to be heated and cooled -- it's a very efficient structure.'

'we questioned how we could build in flexibility that is liberating and not constraining to the building's function and would achieve the best possible conditions for the creation of new work,' added david rockwell. 'we found a way to create a center for the arts that is as useful for performing artists as it is for visual artists and popular artists.'

the organization's first visual art commission will be a large-scale, site-specific work by lawrence weiner. fabricated with custom paving stones embedded in the building's plaza, the 20,000 square-foot work is titled 'in front of itself' and will feature the phrase in 12 foot-high letters. the shed is scheduled to open to the public in the spring of 2019.

By Philip Stevens