Designers: Jefferson Ellinger, Nona Yehia
Ellinger/Yehia Design competed as a finalist in the 2003 edition of YAP. Their entry consisted of multiple geometric arrangements of a classic construction element: the straight wooden line.
Q&A with Ellinger/Yehia Design
MoMA PS1: Where were you, as a firm, when you entered the YAP program?
Jefferson Ellinger and Nona Yehia, Ellinger/Yehia Design: In 2003 we were just starting out as a firm, just the two of us. Jefferson was teaching at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and they gave us a room that we could set up as a studio. The competition really gave us the mechanism from which to build an office. There were a bunch of students who wanted to work on the project so all of the sudden we were a pretty substantial entity—fifteen or twenty kids! Putting out a portfolio was just as big for us as the project. Never before had we gone back and edited our work to that extent. Putting it all together really legitimized our work. People who worked on the project stayed with us until just recently, so the competition was a real catalyst for us.
MoMA PS1: Was there something in the air that you were able to bring to the project?
Ellinger/Yehia Design: The most interesting part of the project was testing out a digital process in a physical way by making full scale models and then putting them back into the digital design, and going back and forth. We were almost trying to position digital technologies into the project but more specifically moving towards the material and understanding how the material can influence the design. In a way, it was the precursor to the parametric kind of design we're doing now.
MoMA PS1: It's interesting that you view the YAP competition as a catalyst for your work. Can you tell us about those projects that succeeded later on?
Ellinger/Yehia Design: We wanted to focus on maximizing the architectural process with very simple and even common construction technique. For us, that ended up being a straight wood element, essentially generating ruled surface geometries. We built three projects in total using this technique—two houses, including the W house in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
MoMA PS1: How did you approach the idea of an all-day concert with your design?
Ellinger/Yehia Design: The project is open seven days a week and while MoMA PS1 is a music and event space on Saturday, most of the time it's a museum. We really looked at how the project would be activated with just a few people walking through it as juxtaposed to Saturday's WarmUp.
MoMA PS1: Did you attend any WarmUps?
Ellinger/Yehia Design: Oh yeah! We'd seen both SHoP, Lindy Roy's and Bill Massie's projects the years before.
MoMA PS1: And your impressions...
Ellinger/Yehia Design: MoMA PS1 has an innovative edge. People were engaging at all different levels—you could go to hang out and not really even pay attention to the architecture! When my son was just 3 months old we went and found a secluded spot to listen to the music. This idea of different scales of occupation was definitely something we thought about—how to mediate through a large crowd and find those isolated moments through the architecture.
MoMA PS1: You were both relatively young in age and career when you took part in YAP. How "youthfully" did you approach the project?
Ellinger/Yehia Design: You could say that we were guilty of over-reaching, but over-reaching in a good way. We didn't have enough experience to know when we were doing a little too much and yes, we were caught up in the exuberance of wanting to do well. I think we're still young architects. We have a long way to go.