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The blurry lines of architecture

Elizabeth Diller is an architect whose work is highly visible, if sometimes of questionable functionality. She describes herself as being interested in “the post-natural”, a state in which natural and human created start to blur.

Blur is the title of her best-known work, the Blur Building, build as an expo pavillion in Yverdon, Switzerland. The building is a lightweight tensigrity structure that rests on a lake. It’s the size of a football field, seventy feet high, and covered with thin nozzles which spray mist of water pulled from the lake. The result is a giant fog cloud that sits at lake level, shaped by the weather and wind.

Walking into the building, you experience “optical whiteout and white noise.” She tells us, “it’s an exhibition pavillion with nothing to see and nothing to do.” In fact the one thing you can see and do is go below it into a “water bar, serving waters of the world.” In other words, after enountering the building, you can drink it.

Diller waxes lyrical about the symbolism of the building – “It might represent Swiss doubt” – while Bruno Giussani, sitting next to me gets increasingly angry. She sees the destruction of the pavillion at the end of the expo as “a transition from the white cloud to the black cloud” – can sense my twinblogger cheering.

A more recent project is the remaking of the High Line railway in New York. The railroad was built in 1934 as a way of moving industrial goods around the city – it worked until 1980, and then was shut down. Since then, it’s been physically inaccessible and generally ignored and unloved. Rudy Giuliani promised to tear it down, but a photo series by Joel Sternfeld helped generate enthusiasm for the site.

The train tracks have turned into a remarkably green environment – seeds carried by the trains have sprouted and there are now over 100 species represented. The goal of the architectural project is an arial greenspace, “Agritecture”, a “blend of the vegetal and the mineral”. The site will be covered with grasses and with pieces of concrete pavement, with grass growing through the cracks. Diller calls it “a pathless landscape.” The irony – the site needs to be completely stripped as the soil currently growing 100 species is highly toxic – remediation of the site will involve destroying it and then rebuilding the greenspace in an entirely different way. Perhaps by 2008, there will be people actually walking on it… maybe.

Diller’s newest work is the revised ICA in Boston – the Institute of Contemporary Art. The building is a huge, one story gallery lofted into the air by a smaller structure, leaving a view of the old harbor. There’s a remarkable performance space with the water as a backdrop. It’s a long way from a drinkable building, but certainly looks more liveable that Blur.

1 thought on “The blurry lines of architecture”

  1. Nice, thanks for blogging TED!

    Just an errata, the name of the city where swiss expo was held is Yverdon, not Evendon.

    Keep up the great posts!!!

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