Art With Purpose

“Architecture is entering a new period where buildings have personality, rights, and responsibility.”-HWKN Co-principal Matthias Hollwich            

What is the purpose of art? Is it created  merely for show or can it have other purposes? For MOMA PS1’s 13th Annual Young Architects Program, MOMA PS1 asked architects to design a temporary outdoor installation that provided shade, seating, and water, while also addressing environmental issues like sustainability and recycling.  The winning design, Wendy, designed by HKWN, an architecture and design office in New York City, demonstrates that architecture can be more than just beautiful structures that provide shelter from the elements.


Photo: Matthew Septimus Courtsey MOMA PS1 website

For those of you unfamiliar with MOMA PS1, let me start from the beginning. PS1 is one of the oldest and largest nonprofit contemporary art spaces in the United States. Located in Long Island City, Queens, PS1 first opened in 1976 as the Institute for Art and Urban Resources Inc.  In 1997 the building was renovated and renamed PS1 Contemporary Art Center based on the buildings history of being a school. In 2000, PS1 became affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), the home of Vang Goghs’s Starry Night and other infamous art works. PS1 functions as exhibition space rather than a collecting institution like most museums. Specializing in experimental art, PS1 sees itself as an artistic laboratory.

One of PS1’s main attractions is that every year they hold an architectural design contest called the Young Architects Program (YAP), where young designers are challenged to design a temporary outdoor installation for the museum’s summer music series, Warm Up. The structures must be interactive and provide shade, seating, and water to summer visitors. Now in its 13th year, architects are asked to address environmental issues while designing.  Last year’s winner, titled Holding Pattern, by Interboro Partners, was created with materials that can be donated to the Long Island City community after the installation was taken down.

This year’s winner titled Wendy, was designed by HWKN (Matthais Hollwich and Marc Kushner), and has been on display since July 1st, and goes through September 8th. Besides looking like a giant mutant sea urchin, being recyclable and ,providing shade, seating, and interactive cooling features to anyone who wishes to visit the installation, Wendy actively cleans the air. 

How is this possible? Wendy is created from blue nylon fabric treated with titania nanoparticles, which neutralizes pollutants in the air.  The fabric, which is held together by scaffolding, forms an angular sea urchin, a shape that maximizes the fabrics surface area. With dimensions of 70’ X 70’ X 45’ this creates a very large air filter. While the installation is up, it will filter enough air equal to removing 260 cars from the road.

Wendy demonstrates that art and architecture are important mediums for addressing environmental issues.  Instead of designers only focusing on minimizing environmental impact, they should also consider including features that actively address environmental concerns. I found HKWN’s use of fabric to filter air an innovative contribution to the field of architecture and I look forward to what innovations next year’s winners come up with.

by Maddie Perlman-Gabel

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