Built Ecologies: Architecture and Environment is a video series featuring prominent architects and thinkers doing innovative work on environmental and ecological topics. In each episode, the subjects are invited to define “architecture” and “environment,” producing a through-line between videos that otherwise capture a wide variety of practices and backgrounds. Available on MoMA’s YouTube channel and on moma.org, the videos draw viewers deeper into major recent topics around architecture and the environment.
Episode 5: Mary Miss
Known for her interdisciplinary work between sculpture, architecture, and landscape design, Mary Miss has been a longtime advocate for how art can play a role in addressing contemporary social issues that affect our environment. In the latest episode of our Built Ecologies series, Miss tells us that “place is [her] medium”; she sees art as key in helping understand the world around us.
In her early days as a sculptor in the 1970s, she started to place her works outdoors, and realized it was a powerful way to engage a space and the landscape around it. Miss wanted to challenge the often sexist status quo of the art scene to find ways of connecting her art to the public to form a “collective vision to imagine a future that is more generous and caring.” Located at the tip of Manhattan’s Battery Park City, Miss’s South Cove (1984–87) invites New Yorkers to have a closer relationship with nature. Miss emphasizes that the idea behind the elongated spiral jetty is to give intimate access to the waterfront where one can reconnect with nature via the senses: hearing the waves and smelling the water.
Miss leads the City as Living Laboratory (CALL), an arts organization that works with artists, scientists, and civilians to tackle complex urban environmental issues. One case study is New York City’s Bronx River Parkway, a highway built over a river, where flooding is a worsening problem during heavy rainfall. Miss explains that a proposed solution is to divert excess water from sewage systems into a green corridor next to the highway, which would also double as a public park. Working with communities in the Bronx, CALL has involved local artists and activists to help call attention to this initiative. Believing that artists can bring positive change, Miss emphasizes the power of networks and the need to find alternatives to “singular structures.”
Episode 4: Peter Chermayeff
This episode looks at the New England Aquarium (NEA) in Boston, which architect Peter Chermayeff conceived as a concrete sculpture that paid tribute to the city’s downtown warehouse district. He envisioned an aquatic museum as a “dark magic box” that would provide the public with a theatrical, immersive experience that would feel like being underwater. Occupying the building’s center, the Giant Ocean Tank was surrounded by a series of concrete columns that acted as a supporting structure. The columns were bound to a spiral ramp, which created a compression ring to hold the massive volume of water. Spaced about five feet apart, towering glass windows formed niches that gave visitors the sensation of having a private viewing space. Illuminated with dim lighting, the Giant Ocean Tank orchestrates an experience of transporting a visitor to a magical world.
In the spring of 1962, after getting a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard, Peter Chermayeff started to make a documentary film instead of going to work on buildings. This path toward a content-driven realm of design was interrupted when a friend, 10 years older, suggested that they start a new design firm. Together with three other architects and two graphic designers, and calling themselves Cambridge Seven Associates, they successfully pursued a selection to design a new public attraction in downtown Boston; the New England Aquarium opened in 1969. Peter Chermayeff found himself guiding a challenging collaborative process, learning from partners, consultants, and countless talents at all levels, while engaged in a search for fresh ways to solve problems and to make things of value happen. During the past six decades, starting with the New England Aquarium, projects in which he had a leading role have included the US Exhibition at Expo ’67, in Montreal; guidelines and standards for the T, Boston’s transit system; a show and exhibit called Where’s Boston? for the US Bicentennial; the National Aquarium in Baltimore; the Osaka Aquarium; the San Antonio Museum of Art; the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga; and the Oceanarium of Lisbon.
Episode 3: Hawaiʻi Non-Linear
Our Built Ecologies video series continues with a look at Hawaiʻi Non-Linear, architects who are attempting to recover an Indigenous Honolulu. By dismantling the urban transformations Honolulu has undergone, architects Sean Connelly and Dominic Leong help to envision alternative futures for how this land could be used and, more importantly, for Hawaiians to reclaim these places for the practice of Indigenous knowledge. This process of reclamation includes sacred and cultural sites that are buried under current and former military forts in Diamond Head, Punchbowl Crater, and Fort DeRussy Beach.
Dominic Leong is a founding partner at Leong Leong, a New York–based architecture practice focused on the aesthetic, social, and ecological dimensions of design to address the pressing issues of our time. Leong Leong’s work ranges from exhibitions and product design to cultural spaces, civic buildings, social housing, and private residences. They have been recognized and supported by various international institutions, including the Guggenheim Museo Bilbao, the Architectural League of New York, and the American Institute of Architects. In 2014, Leong Leong designed the US Pavilion at the 14th La Biennale di Venezia. Notable projects include the Anita May Rosenstein Campus for the Los Angeles LGBT Center (2019), MoMA PS1 Courtyard Coalition in Queens, NY (2022), and Hancock Park Private Residence in Los Angeles, CA (2023). Leong is also cofounder, along with Sean Connelly, of Hawai’i Non-Linear a Honolulu-based nonprofit empowering Indigenous futures in the built environment through art and architecture. Together they have taught design studios at Columbia University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Leong’s most recent academic research has explored the future of contemporary art institutions and disability culture at the Cooper Union.
Sean Connelly is an artist in Honolulu, O‘ahu, where he/they were born and still lives and works. Connelly creates work that focuses on material, place, and time. They work primarily in sculpture, architecture, filmmaking, and experimental cartography. Through their work, Connelly smartly creates clarity around the physical and spiritual conditions of the built environment. They engage the built environment and its effects on their community to decolonize and address the traumas of settler colonialism, militarization, and US urbanism embedded physically in the environment in architecture and in everyday life. Through their own oral history and unique geo-perception of the built environment, Connelly aims to liberate the experiences that transform individual and collective responsibility into real sensation, cognition, spatial justice, mystic alignment, and intergenerational transfer. Connelly splits their time between Honolulu and New York, works globally, and acknowledges the creative and scholarly community of Hawai‘i as the biggest place on Earth. Professionally, Connelly operates under the imprint AFTEROCEANIC and directs a range of client-based and parainstitutional grassroots projects as a Pacific laboratory for applied theory and culture in design and built environments.
Episode 2: Joyce Hwang
For the last decade, Joyce Hwang has been on the research frontier of interspecies architecture. In this episode, Hwang shows us how wildlife can and should be integrated into, rather than excluded from, built structures. She shares her approach of avoiding short-term design goals that fail to consider the larger ecological impacts or unintended consequences that a built structure can have on other species.
Joyce Hwang is an associate professor and the Director of Graduate Studies of Architecture at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York; and the founder of Ants of the Prairie. For over a decade, Hwang has been developing a series of projects that incorporate wildlife habitats into constructed environments. She is a recipient of the Exhibit Columbus University Research Design Fellowship (2020–21), the Architectural League Emerging Voices Award (2014), the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowship (2013), the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Independent Project Grant (2013, 2008), and the MacDowell Fellowship (2016, 2011). Her work has been exhibited at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Matadero Madrid, the Venice Architecture Biennale, and the Rotterdam International Architecture Biennale, among other venues. Hwang is a registered architect in New York State and has practiced professionally with offices in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Barcelona.
Episode 1: James Wines
James Wines’ career as an architect has involved the creation of decades’ worth of fantastical drawings—a trove of new ecological narratives that often run counter to mainstream, Western architectural discourses. This episode focuses on Wines’ drawings — technique, method, etc. — and case studies from the office he cofounded, SITE, revealing a singular vision in American architecture that puts ecology and the environment at the forefront.
James Wines is an artist, architectural designer, and founder (in 1970) of SITE, an environmental arts studio in New York. His buildings, landscapes, and public spaces are based on contextual commentary and integration with their surroundings. He is the author of De-Architecture (1987) and Green Architecture (2000) and has designed and built more than 150 projects in 11 countries. Wines are also the recipient of 25 professional honors, including the 2013 National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement and the 1995 Chrysler Award for Design Innovation. He is a retired professor of architecture at Penn State University. The main emphasis of his current creative work is an “economy of means” in the design and realization of public structures. He continues to write and lecture on environmental issues internationally.
This series was made possible through a generous gift from Emilio Ambasz. The Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and the Natural Environment is a platform for fostering dialogue, promoting conversation, and facilitating research about the relationship between the built and natural environment, with the aim of making the interaction between architecture and ecology visible and accessible to the wider public while highlighting the urgent need for an ecological recalibration.