The Shed, New York's newest arts and cultural venue, is designed for the future
The building – if one can call it that – is anchored to the base of a cylindrical condominium tower in Manhattan's new Hudson Yards development. And it's named The Shed, though there is not much about the US$500 million, 18,600sqm (200,000sqf ) structure that resembles a rickety garden shack.
Cloaked in puffed ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) panels, The Shed's 36-metre-high steel shell aims to redefine how an event space functions in the 21st century. Inside, walls slide open, two theatres merge into one, blackout drapes can turn a sun-lit gallery into a black box, and – most remarkably – the telescoping outer shell can be pulled back on a double-wheel industrial track.
"The opportunity to design a ground-up building for the arts forced the question, 'What will art look like in the next 10 years, 20 years and beyond?'" Architect Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who designed The Shed in collaboration with the Rockwell Group, asked at the building preview: "The answer was that we simply could not know."All the firm could be certain of, she said, is there would be a need for conditioned space of different heights and sizes, a need for structural loading capacity and a need for electrical power. Diller described the solution as "an architecture of infrastructure". It takes about five minutes to roll out the shell – its wheels measure two metres in diameter – and it uses "about as much energy as starting a Prius".
When fully deployed, the building shell creates a 1,600sqm (17,000sqf) hall that is light-, sound- and temperature-controlled. This flexible space can respond to variable needs in scale, media and technology and can serve as a theatre that seats 1,250 people or a standing audience of 2,700. The hall ceiling acts as a theatrical deck and fly loft where rigging can be set up across the entire volume of space above the audience.
It takes about five minutes to roll out the shell – its wheels measure two metres in diameter – and it uses "about as much energy as starting a Prius"
A walk through the building's immobile portion, which includes a wide lobby nestled under the High Line and several floors of smaller studios, galleries and 'creative labs', proves that the portable portion is indeed The Shed's most compelling feature. It is also what attracted artistic director and CEO Alex Poots to the project.Poots was the founding director of the Manchester Arts Festival and artistic director at New York's Park Avenue Armory, and has become known for producing boundary-pushing cross-genre works such as Steve McQueen's Queen and Country; group show Il Tempo del Postino featuring works by Carsten Höller, Tacita Dean, and Matthew Barney; and Zaha Hadid's temporary concert hall with Piotr Anderszewski and Alina Ibragimova.
In The Shed, Poots discovered flexibility embedded into the building infrastructure. "I've never found one building that could do everything," he told Perspective a few months before the opening. "Here the building plans I was looking at would accommodate performing arts, visual arts and pop culture."
New works in the opening season include Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, a futuristic kung fu musical in which director Chen Shi-Zheng enlisted Akram Khan to create aerial choreography. The piece features original songs by pop star Sia and a set designed by Hong Kong's Tim Yip, whose initial sketches changed after he toured The Shed and realised the hall's capacity for creating an alternate universe around the story. This is another part of The Shed that Poots like to emphasise: the structure itself will help inspire new works and performances.
Overall, he says the arts have become more fluid. "There is a desire for synthesis, for work that fits between art forms." The inaugural season also includes a collaboration matching painter Gerhard Richter with musicians Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt, and a performance conceived in part by the poet Anne Carson on the subject of Marilyn Monroe and Helen of Troy.
Unfortunately, The Shed's elegant engineering and novel approach to spatial planning are not features it shares with the rest of the Hudson Yards. New York's brand-new $20-billion development on the city's west side comprises a mass of glass office towers, high-end condos and a humdrum shopping mall, with little public space to speak of.
This is another part of The Shed that Poots like to emphasise: the structure itself will help inspire new works and performances
Located adjacent to The Shed, Thomas Heatherwick's Vessel – the giant, shimmering, urn-shaped structure that features roaming stairs to nowhere – occupies one of the few open plazas, but its bulging profile makes The Shed difficult to fully grasp.
But perhaps with the arrival of summer as The Shed's giant shell is rolled back to reveal an open-air plaza, and the spindly planted trees have now grown leaves, the setting will feel less claustrophobic and more like the dynamic and creative arena its designers hoped for.