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Designers: John Henle, Lawrence Blough

Lawrence Blough founded GRAFTWORKS, an interdisciplinary design practice, in 1999. His 2005 finals entry was a botanical blossom that would literally bloom right in the MoMA PS1 courtyard.


MoMA PS1: What was the thought behind your project?
Lawrence Blough, GRAFTWORKS: Basically we tried to develop a construction system that was flexible—it could be adaptable to different conditions and would really deal with the economies of construction. It also had to be built using unskilled labor so we wanted to develop a series of CNC milled parts that incorporate coded instructions for assembly.

The topic for the competition as presented to us by Terry Riley was the "urban beach." It seemed interesting to look at botanical analogues because it could tie into the topic and take on the provocation of naturalized technology. The genealogy goes back to Paxton in the late nineteenth century, where he had studied botanical models to develop greenhouse structures that used prefabrication. I also hoped that this research could lead to a novel tectonic system which is a preoccupation of my practice and teaching. We ended up focusing on the water lily and we tried to unlock what its traits were. There is an amazing lattice system of ribs that supports the pad, allows it to float and makes it very strong. It also goes through a series of transformations as it moves from the bottom of the water to the surface. We extracted these concepts and developed a lattice that performed many things at once by creating a set of a prefab profiles that could be tailored for different conditions in the site and create a variety of spatial experiences.

When we presented the project, the committee was very excited by it but they thought it was too concentrated. They asked, "Would you be interested in doing more of it?" but I was really concerned about it hitting budget. In retrospect, it should have covered a larger field. Glenn Lowry said, "It's the water lily—let's grow more of it!" We could've increased it by 20–30% to get more of a canopy. Every scheme that has won covers the entire courtyard.

This is the psychology of architecture: how important is it that you win? It was great just to be included. But at that point, do you see it as a culmination of your work to date or is it a projection of where you would like to go and a stepping stone for your career? How do people think of it? I've seen people take things that they've already done and riff on it. I saw the competition as an opportunity to try something new that we hadn’t done in the office.

MoMA PS1: In the end, your project was built, which is fantastic!
GRAFTWORKS: A year or two ago, a friend of mine who is an artist and curator in Miami contacted me. She had come to the office to see my MoMA PS1 scheme and was really excited about it and she asked, "Would you be interested in creating this for a gallery show?" I never thought it was going to happen so I happily agreed. We ultimately fabricated the scheme last spring. It's great that we stayed on this thing and got it built.