Every summer weekend, thousands of people pour into MoMA PS1’s courtyard to enjoy the best in art, architecture, and music during the weekly Warm Up parties. As the winner of this year’s Young Architects Program competition, which provides the setting for Warm Up, we took the opportunity to further contemporary explorations of architecture’s potential to create sensory-charged environments, rather than finite forms.
Especially in the case of envisioning a temporary structure for MoMA PS1’s courtyard, which needs to perform two seemingly contradictory functions—repose and revelry—a worthy proposition needs to consider the choreography of situations rather than object making.
The Pole Dance system consists of 16-by-16-foot grids of 30-foot poles, which are connected by bungee cords. The poles’ movement is controlled by the elasticity of the cords, and the grid accommodates a number of playful activators, such as hammocks, pulls, and rain-collecting plants. These leverage points are the interface between the visitor and the system. A local action allows a small transformation to ripple fully across the larger system, and the gently swaying columns broadcast these ripples over the courtyard walls into the city and to the world beyond. An open net covers the entire field and stabilizes the poles. Multicolored balls move above the net, offering shade and giving the overall structure the appearance of a game—a game in which the rules need invention. In one area, the net drops down to accommodate a pool, offering a view above the net. This entire construct softly covers a landscape of hammocks, misters, pools, and pulls to create a light, colorful environment in constant flux.
Calibrating the structure during construction was a challenge characteristic of the difficulties of an elastic system. Because the poles connect to the ground with pivot rubber bases, the bungee cords are the only thing holding them upright in place in relationship to each other; the stiffness of theses cords, therefore, determines how the poles move. On the one hand, we needed the structure to be resilient enough to withstand the environment; on the other, it needed to be sensitive enough to gently dance with the wind and with visitors’ play. This is the reverse of a traditional engineering problem, in which you typically eliminate as many variables as possible. Here, we tried to include as many as possible. After many sessions with Buro Happold, our engineering consultant on this project, it was clear that the best way to determine the calibration was to test with physical mock-ups. So we built the structure in the smaller courtyard three times, first using a very elastic cord, secondly a relatively stiff one, and finally something in between. Through this process, we gained a tactile understanding of elasticity in a field, which was very valuable.
With Pole Dance, we want to explore the issue of sustainability from a phenomenological rather than a technological point of view. In the spirit of this year’s call for designs that address contemporary issues of sustainability, all the materials in Pole Dance are re-usable (the rubber pivot bases will be reclaimed by a surf school for wind surfing, and the nets will be donated to a Jamaican hotel owner who wants to prevent papayas falling on her roof). But more importantly, the structure we created here provides a sensorial apparatus for visitors to experience an unstable and yet resilient environment. It is intentionally indeterminate, constantly trying to find its equilibrium. One can play, affect, or even bring destruction to the system. At the same time, we wanted the installation to be something that one can feel affection for. The colorful gym balls, the hammocks, pool, and misters all add to the playfulness, and invite people to engage and be one and part of the installation. With this, Pole Dance becomes a metaphor for the elastic cloud we inhabit, a gently swaying acupuncture and a beacon for a softer footprint. We hope that such an environment re-engages the public with the physical realm, encouraging an increased awareness and care for our direct environment.
Pole Dance is on view in MoMA PS1’s outdoor courtyard starting Friday, June 25.