This feature has been created in collaboration with SPIRIT OF SPACE. Spirit of Space is an award-winning filmmaking collaborative seeking to communicate the spirit of the people and places that build contemporary architecture, art and design.
SHoP Architects has produced some of the world’s most iconic and recognizable architecture in recent years. The firm’s projects extend themselves as such enduring landmarks not solely for their striking forms, but for their expression of the curiosity for the limitations of form. Since its inception, SHoP has demonstrated an unprecedented approach to materiality, applying unconventional materials to major typologies, causing a brick façade to ripple in SoHo and a paneled corten façade to swell in Brooklyn.
A major component of SHoP’s practice is the dutiful testing of new materials and fabrication technologies. Currently the firm is working to produce New York’s first timber tower, and construction is well underway on a super-tall skyscraper clad in terra-cotta tile at the base of Central Park.
Mulberry House in SoHo
After receiving the 2016 Design Miami Visionary Award, the firm was handed the opportunity to test out a host of new materials and fabrication techniques on a much smaller project, the pavilion for the Design Miami/ fair.
For the project, which marks the entrance to the exhibition, SHoP partnered with fabrication companies Branch Technology and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to create a unique, undulating metal structure that provides pockets of shade, sunshine and areas for respite. Entitled Flotsam & Jetsam, the pavilion is constructed out of a 3D-printed, metal cage-like façade inhabited by a range of benches made from a special compound of biodegradable bamboo — a material never used before this project.
SHoP partnered with architectural filmmakers Spirit of Space to create the above film, which explores the automated design process of Flo&Jet and the resultant dynamism of the structure. Architizer then caught up with SHoP’s principal Gregg Pasquarelli and designer Luisa Mendez to discuss their approach to the pavilion and SHoP’s history of material experimentation.
Joanna Kloppenburg: How did SHoP respond to both the context of the Miami Design Fair and also the city of Miami in conceiving the design for the Flo&Jet Pavilion?
Pasquarelli: I think one of the things that was so interesting about this project is that a lot of the projects that SHoP works on are very large-scale, complex, mixed-use, city, building kind of work. A lot of these projects take five, eight, 10, even 12 years to come to fruition.
Where SHoP started, one of our first projects that gained notoriety was our work with PS1 and really sort of launched the Young Architects Program back in 2000. A decade and a half later, we wondered: What would we do if we did something like that again? It started in July, and we knew it would be over by December. It was like, “Oh, great. Let’s do something fast, fun and interesting, see what we can push with technology and make something really beautiful but also a great research project.”
SHoP produced “Dunescape” for the MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program in 2000. Image courtesy of SHoP Architects
I think a lot about things that SHoP did over the ensuing decade after PS1. You can see some of the research in PS1 in a lot of the bigger projects. So, it was kind of fun to say, “Well, let’s just do another complete research conceptual project and watch how it is affected over the next 10 years.” That was really the position that we started with when we accepted the award and decided to do this.
Mendez: One of the challenges we had, which helped us determine the kind of material and technology we were going to use, was the fact that we only had one week to assemble the whole pavilion. We had looked at a couple of different materials before, but having something that we could assemble very quickly was fairly important because of the limitations, so we found the fabricators [Branch Technology and ORNL]. We had a great relationship with them. We worked with Thornton Tomasetti for structural. It was really a day-to-day, highly collaborated process.
The Flotsam & Jetsam Pavilion
Can you talk about the firm’s history working with 3D-printing materials?
Pasquarelli: We were kind of at the forefront of it back in the mid-’90s; that was where we came out of academia and our research. Using CNC technology was really at the core of this office’s beginning and something that we’ve used all the way through, fabricating the entire façade of the Barclays Center, for example.
It’s always been something we’ve been incredibly interested in; this was a new technology that we could push and make something really beautiful and tangible.
The Barclays arena in Fort Greene, Brooklyn
How does this technology differ from what you’ve previously used? How do you think it might inform your work moving forward?
Pasquarelli: The main issue is it’s a 3D printer, but what it really does is print in the air. Imagine a robot that’s squeezing toothpaste out of its finger and the toothpaste goes from a liquid to a solid in a tenth of a second. It can literally just print in the air, if you will.
We were able to make this three-dimensional volume take on beautiful arches, folds and shapes, benches, walls, pockets and doorways. We created the whole pavilion directly from this robot’s arm.
The Flotsam & Jetsam Pavilion
I am reminded a lot of the Barclay Center looking at the Pavilion, both in the materiality and the canopy shape that “catches” its visitors. Were you considering Barclay as a precedent when shifting to this smaller scale for the pavilion?
Mendez: Yes, Barclay is always in our minds. However, for this particular project, we were also thinking of its afterlife. This week, we’re bringing the pavilion to another part of Miami, Jungle Plaza. There’s a beautiful mural in the back that is called Jungle. So the color was also chosen to fit in and become part of this new environment of the second location.
Detail of the Flotsam & Jetsam Pavilion
The benches in the pavilion are made of a biodegradable bamboo material. How are you also thinking about the continued life cycle or the eventual decomposition of the structure?
Mendez: This is the very first time that the material will get used and employed. One of the benefits of doing it at the pavilion is that we’re only thinking of how it’s going to react in 10 years, but you really have a chance to think outside the box and take a risk.
This is a test for both materials, but more so for the bamboo, as this is the first time it is being used. We got it by going to a laboratory. The materials were left for a couple of days in water to see how they reacted, and it was fine. We’ll see in a couple of years, but it’s great to have the opportunity to take a risk and really investigate what materials work.
The Flotsam & Jetsam Pavilion
The name of the project references ship wreckage. How were you inspired by this derelict materiality in the conception of the pavilion?
Pasquarelli: We were just having fun, quite honestly. I think part of the name is sort of Flow and Jet. Obviously, we were inspired by the dunes, and the sea, and the sea creatures and …
Pasquarelli: Jellyfish, and all that. Those were the sort of morphological things we were researching and that we could play with using this technology. There’s that, and then there’s this notion of the man-made materials on the beach in Miami versus what’s natural. Flotsam and jetsam includes both natural and man-made things that flow. As the form is clearly inspired by nature but clearly made by technology, it seemed like the right tension in a name.
The Flotsam & Jetsam Pavilion
SHoP demonstrates a huge interest in pursuing the limitations of materials and pushing unconventional materials for large-scale projects, particularly the projects on 18th Street and for 57th Street in New York that you’re developing. How is SHoP testing materials for such large-scale projects?
Pasquarelli: SHoP never comes with a preconceived notion of the aesthetics of a building, but whenever we’re starting to work on something — whether it’s inspired by context, or just something we have a curiosity about or something we haven’t looked at before — we pick the materials very early on in the process.
Then, a lot of what you have to design is influenced by the limitations of the material — not to just the performance limitations, but how and where is it produced? By who? Where does it get made? What thicknesses does it come in? How is it delivered? How is it manipulated? How is it fabricated and folded, bent, cast, cut and carved? How big are the pieces? How big do they come on a truck? How do you pick them off the truck and assemble them into space? What do they look like today? What will they look like in 10 years? What are they going to look like in 100 years?
Renderings of 111 West 57th Street in New York City
That’s a huge driver to all of our work, and [Flotsam and Jetsam] is no different. Certainly, it’s not something that’s going to last 100 years, but it’s a new material, and what could we do with it to make it really beautiful? What are its limits? And it’s just a very different thing than doing an institutional building or a skyline-defining tower. I think it’s the same thought process in either case.
What kinds of facilities does the firm have to test materials on a more day-to-day basis?
Pasquarelli: Well, when we first opened SHoP, it was 2,000 square feet of space. It was 1,000 square foot of a wood shop/workshop and 1,000 square feet of architecture studio space. From the very beginning, we have always been really interested in building, making and testing things ourselves.
We worked very heavily in the adoption of these new technologies and making. We built all of our models ourselves. We believe that when you build a model, it’s the first time you actually build a building. There’s an incredible amount to be learned by building a model of a building. The place where it’s the hardest to glue two pieces of wood together on the model is the same place where the contractor has trouble getting two pieces of steel to go together.
Model for Urber Headquarters
As a first prototype, it’s an incredibly important learning experience that we can use a feedback loop to help us refine our designs. As our projects have gotten bigger, and more complicated, we realized that we couldn’t do that in a regular office space in Manhattan anymore, so, like the rest of the world, we headed to Bushwick and rented an industrial space with an outdoor courtyard.
The goal is now to start really fabricating our own mock-ups of everything from furniture to wall systems to façade systems, to any kind of research that we’re interested in doing. That’s given us a lot of space. It’s a pretty new thing, less than a year old, but it’s something that we’re really excited about, continuing that exploration. It’s something that most architects don’t do themselves.
See more work from Spirit of Space at their website.