Bade Stageberg Cox, a Brooklyn-based firm, was a YAP 2009 finalist with the inflatable, environmentally conscious, sustainable project, P.S.i: Summer Blow Up 2009.
Q&A with Bade Stageberg Cox
MoMA PS1: Not long after you were nominated as a finalist for the YAP 2009 competition, the U.S. economy crashed hard. Did your project reflect on the current crisis?
Tim Bade, Jane Stageberg, Martin Cox, Bade Stageberg Cox: Well, we knew that we didn’t want to be in debt after it was all over! We wanted to actually build P.S.i: Summer Blow Up 2009 within the budget.
There is a history of YAP architects using free labor from students who donate their time and energy, so there is a kind of artificial economy built into the project that is dependant upon cheap student labor. The tendency then, is to use inexpensive materials but put them together in complicated, interesting ways that are very labor intensive. Inevitably it all gets thrown away because you can never recreate the cheap labor conditions that allowed you to install it. We really wanted to break this model.
We were rethinking Mies van der Rohe’s famous aphorism “Less is more” as a sustainable strategy for how we could build the most with less and with the lightest material. The best shade structure we could think of was a cloud, but to actually mimic a cloud is incredibly complicated. We looked at air structures, at Macy’s parade balloons, at the armchair balloonist Larry Walters, and this lead us to look into air beams—primarily those used by the military, for quick deployment, emergencies, and temporary bridges—and other self-contained air structures, all of which are temporary. They can be made offsite and deployed very quickly, taken down, and reused. An inflatable structure both addressed our ideas about material economy as well as avoided the environmental costs of heavy construction. The fabric patterns were derived from a Rhino model, giving us the flexibility to scale the form any way we wanted. There was a simple relationship between the areas of fabric and cost, so we could track the costs from the computer model.
MoMA PS1: Had you dealt with this idea before or was it the propagation of the project?
Bade Stageberg Cox: We have not dealt with inflatables specifically. We’ve done a fair number of sustainable projects and always try to think beyond recycled carpeting and bamboo, which is the usual approach to green design. We were looking at the deeper issues of sustainability, which many people don’t talk about—site work, transportation costs, embodied energy of the materials, and the kind of deeper integration of these ideas of sustainability into our culture. When you do the math, it takes more energy to make photovoltaic panels, transport them to the site, and set them up for three months, than the energy you get back. It’s actually a net loss. Instead, we looked into buying energy credits for electricity generated at upstate wind farms. One benefit is the premium paid for green power is reinvested in expanding the wind power grid. We liked the idea that our “cloud” would be powered by wind.