BUILDING PLANS: Architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio stood off in the wings during Monday’s preview of the upcoming Charles James exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, even though their body of work is integral to the fashion crowd.
Together with Charles Renfro, their firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, more commonly known as DS+R, transformed Lincoln Center into its current state. They have also collaborated on The High Line, created the cantilevered modernistic Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and recently landed Moscow’s Zaryadye Park project.
Scofidio said of their work on the James exhibition, “Architecture is a discipline about how people move through space and use space. And James did that with dresses.”
They are also involved with The Culture Shed, the start-up arts center at Hudson Yards which is slated to become the new home of New York Fashion Week once it’s completed around 2017. “It integrates visual arts, performing arts and creative industry. And in creative industry, fashion is a very big economic player,” Diller said.
The couple recently explored fashion from a very different viewpoint, by juxtaposing clothes from various decades using Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, CT. as a backdrop. “Capsule Collection” was completed for an exhibition and catalogue for the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art in Greece. The idea was to showcase how fashion evolved from the time the iconic 20th century Modernist house was built (1949) to the present. “The successions of decades and the fashions that really kind of hit the spot,” Diller said. “When you look back everyone is kind of interested in retro fashions like all the way back to the Thirties. It’s capturing this semi-fictional narrative, these moments in history that go back in time and using The Glass House as the stage.”
The couple gave a lecture about their efforts at The Glass House last year. “One of the nice perks of the project was that we got to sleep there one night. It was pretty amazing,” Scofidio said. “One of the things Philip Johnson would say was that at night it was a house of wallpaper because all you see is trees pressed against the glass.”
After being hired by the Museum of Modern Art to seek an alternative expansion plan that would not require demolishing the former American Folk Art Museum next door building (designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien), Diller Scofidio & Renfro concluded that could not be avoided. Asked about the outcry that ensued, Diller said the situation is “a lightning rod for many anxieties… the loss of intimacy at MoMA, the various expansions, the kind of change in Midtown, some very expected anxieties around the loss of a contemporary building and other things such as the architect’s ability to control something after they have done it.
“We took on the project with the ambition of saving the building. We didn’t anticipate that we wouldn’t be able to, so we didn’t really think about what kind of fallout there could be. But I think it touched a nerve with so many people for so many different reasons – some of which are connected to the project some of which are not,” Diller said. “We’re really sensitive to all of that but we move forward because we believe that the Folk Art Museum is a very small piece to a much bigger project to include MoMA and to let it take its next step to challenge it critically.”
Noting that the criticisms and observations will be used constructively, she continued, “We all know that MoMA needs to do a lot of things to be a better place. And there is a very introspective leadership team which is really, really good and a great new batch of curators thinking forward. So we see the thing as ultimately very, very positive, although it has been extremely sensitive, a difficult dilemma that has no good answer.”