Gage / Clemenceau Architects, formed by Mark Foster Gage and Mark Clemenceau Bailly, was a finalist in the 2007 edition of YAP for a gold-encrusted project that mixed Art Nouveau, Canal Street, and a little bit of bling.
Thoughts from Gage / Clemenceau Architects
Mark Gage, Gage / Clemenceau Architects: We teamed up shortly after I finished graduate school at Yale to form Gage / Clemenceau Architects. At first we were working out of our living rooms doing a handful of residential projects and entering a few competitions. In 2006 we won the AIA New Practices Award, which gave us some good exposure and recognized various other projects. All of this press allowed us to hire more people and build up the size and profile of the firm. We were about four or five full-time people and a few interns before the YAP competition came along.
Having been working for a few years as a firm before the YAP competition, and as I had simultaneously been teaching at both Yale and Columbia, we had made connections in various other fields and at other schools. For YAP we capitalized on this small global network we had formed to help us do research for our design. At one point we had some ridiculous number of people, seventeen I think, mostly in our office and the rest scattered around the world, all working on the proposal. Everything we wanted to do we did, which meant spending a lot of time on rendering, model building, prototyping, 3D printing, and on finding ways to fund this research with other projects.
Riffing on the “urban beach” request of the brief, we looked at underwater atmospheres to create a submerged, kelpy, shimmering, and luminous environment—something with some serious chatoyance. We wanted to disperse the sunlight the same way as when the sun’s rays hit a pool of water—they fragment into a caustic network of wiggling light. We were trying to reproduce that same effect on the ground using shadows. Additional artificial lighting was produced by having small clusters of LEDs bunched like fruit up in our canopies. There was to be less of them up by the entrance and more of them towards the back to generate an effect of a gradient. This was designed to draw people in with increasing brightness towards the bars.
As the project moved on, we realized we were flirting with a very custom Art Nouveau sensibility of form, and decided to take it in a more populist, non-elite direction, by fusing this historic moment with a little contemporary bling—more Canal Street than 5th Avenue, where gold really becomes noticable only in quantity. Gold, gold, gold! We pushed it to an extreme and created a super-charged, fluidly contoured, custom, expensive-looking atmosphere with every intention of giving it over weekly to a bunch of intoxicated twenty year-old hipsters. Our proposal was bilaterally symmetrical with a very formal axial positioning in the courtyard. Most MoMA PS1 events come off like sloppy backyard barbecues and we wanted there to be a much more formal quality to ours, at least in the beginning, like entering Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball. There’s a certain quality about a dignified entrance, when people look their best and love is in the air instead of in every nook and cranny, which then dissolves into the traditional jungle of heat and inebriation that inevitably follows as WarmUp wears on.
When we presented the project, we wanted everyone who worked on it to take part. There must have been about nine or ten people in the room when we met with the jury. We were rolling this giant cart down the hallway en masse with all of this gold stuff on, around, and hanging off of it. It probably looked like a big-time bribe or even a religious offering. When we walked into the presentation room with ten people carrying all of these gold models, gold renderings, and gold material samples, someone from the jury yelled out, “You guys don’t look like architects! You look more like rock stars and a bunch of groupies!”