SHoP/Sharples Holden Pasquarelli won the 2000 YAP with Dunescape, a design that set the precedent for the “urban beach.”
Q&A with SHoP/Sharples Holden Pasquarelli
MoMA PS1: How was the project described to you?
Gregg Pasquarelli, SHoP/Sharples Holden Pasquarelli: At the time when we were first nominated, we didn’t know anything about YAP. Terry Riley called the office and said, “You should really do this.” We went to MoMA PS1 to meet with staff and they described what they had done for the two previous years, showing us pictures of Gelitin’s project and Phillip Johnson’s installation. Their biggest issue was that they wanted it to be an urban beach but with more shade. The first questions we asked ourselves were, “Do you need water and sand to make a beach?”
We had been experimenting with digital simulation and animation design techniques as well as really trying to push this idea of “performance-based design,” but SHoP’s main interest was translating the digital into the actual. How could an architect extract what was so provocative on the screen and retain this once it’s built? How do you do that on a limited budget without making it look like a school project? We had to make that translation in six weeks! Back then the competition didn’t seem like a big deal. For us it was more, “Let’s see if we can test these ideas out.”
MoMA PS1: Wow, you had such a relaxed attitude!
Gregg Pasquarelli: We never knew it would turn into something so big! We were definitely challenged by Alanna Heiss and Terry Riley who both perceived this as a big thing. We really wanted it to be great. SHoP believes the more theoretical the design, or the more you want to push the theoretical envelope, the more you have to know how to actually do it. It is kind of an equal and opposite action to balance the technological with the artistic. I remember the day Dunescape was finished. Terry said to us, “I’m so proud you set the bar so high because now this is going to be taken seriously by the architectural community.” At the time we didn’t really understand what he was saying. You have to remember we were barely 30 years old! It took about three or four years for us to really understand what he was talking about that day. He had a lot of vision when it came to the program.
In retrospect the idea was totally half baked and we didn’t really know it! It was both the speed and the freedom of YAP that made it an interesting and potent mix for us. It gave us a lot of confidence in the ensuing years to take on larger and more difficult projects. YAP does an amazing job of identifying interesting people early in their careers. I believe that’s the great success of the program—keeping it firmly in the experimental zone and finding talent early. Ultimately that means some installations are more successful than others but that’s okay. I’ve heard, “I don’t really like the YAP project this year. It’s not very good.” We think, “So what? That’s not what it’s about.”
MoMA PS1: And your role as a young architect…
Gregg Pasquarelli: Well, I guess we’re not young anymore but maybe you can say we’re still young-ish! We still have the same attitude of “Sure, we’re not afraid to try and design something theoretical and stand behind it and get it built.” We don’t always know what we’re doing, but we’ll figure it out. I believe that we’re still learning and still challenging ourselves daily, so if you think about it, we’re really not that much different from our MoMA PS1 days.