Cracked clay is generally associated with failure, whether it be dry riverbeds, damaged pieces of pottery or poorly built construction. But what if the imperfections of this material could be harnessed as a fabrication tool? A group of New York–based architects, engineers and educators are using cracked clay as a cast to design a temporary pavilion on Governors Island in New York City this summer.
Their project, “Cast & Place,” is this year’s winning entry for the seventh annual City of Dreams Pavilion Competition. The design contest is hosted each year by FIGMENT NYC, the Emerging New York Architects Committee of the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter and the Structural Engineering Association of New York. For the 2017 pavilion, entrants were asked to focus on ways in which architecture could promote sustainable thinking or feature the reuse of waste materials.
The winners, Team Aesop, propose to use 300,000 aluminum cans — the number of cans the city uses in just one hour — as well as recycled local wood and five tons of pure clay sourced from glacial deposits in Flushing, Queens.
“Our answer was to propose a pavilion made entirely from waste,” said the team on their Kickstarter page. “‘Cast & Place’ reimagines waste as a transformative resource for our New York City future.”
Wooden frames and shallow trays of cracked clay will serve as the formwork for panels that make up the shade structure. Molten aluminum will be poured in between the crevices of the clay, cohesively blending together to form a series of permeable metal surfaces. Cracked-clay reflecting pools will also be built into the ground on each side of the panels, showing in real time how the material responds to hot and rainy weather conditions. After the summer, the panels will be turned into benches and trellises for supporters on the project.
After a trip to Governors Island last summer, the team was inspired by the obvious need for more shade structures throughout the landscape. They saw the pavilion project as their opportunity to not only provide a basic need to the community, but start a discussion on what waste is and how it could become a desirable and useful tool for the future.
“This is a simple project, but there’s a lot to it,” said Josh Draper, team member and principal of Brooklyn-based studio PrePost. “We hope people take refuge from the sun and that it’s a space for literal and figurative reflection.” The cast will create dappled light that comes in through the apertures in the cracks, forming a design that’s both open and sheltering.
“On one hand, the project is philosophical,” he said. “It’s a place to pull your eyes into the simple but very complex phenomena of what’s going on in the materials. On the other hand, there is something political to be said here about the economics and process of waste.”
The team hopes the project proves an educational experience for the city. They are working with Sure We Can, a recycling center in Bushwick, to collect the aluminum needed for the panels from local canners. Upon completion, canners will be honored at the project site and be able to tell their stories of recycling for a living.
Draper sees “Cast & Place” as a project that not only speaks to the environmental and economic impact of reusing waste, but as a way to connect with different people. “This is a whole labor force that is marginalized, and we want to connect them to the public,” said Draper. “We want to highlight the people and expose the urban forces behind these sustainable industries and educate the city on what’s possible.”
The team has already been testing out their fabrication method for the panels by casting smaller prototypes, including a recent 20-inch-by-40-inch version. They’ll be working with Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, to create the next prototype on March 25.
For “Cast & Place” to be realized, Team Aesop needs $30,000 for materials collection, fabrication, installation and disassembly. All money is being raised through donations and sponsorships on Kickstarter, with a campaign deadline of Monday, March 27.
Learn more, donate or sign up to volunteer with the project here.
Images and video courtesy of “Cast & Place” Kickstarter