Playing with Ambiguity_Where Conceptual Art Meets Realism
New Office Works
Who influences you graphically?
A mix of British Realist artists – Euan Uglow, Peter Doig, Francis Bacon – and American Conceptual artists such as John Baldessari and Ed Rusha. Often people see Realism and Conceptual Art as two opposing art movements, but to us, they share some important similarities. Both tried to break away from the predominant style of Abstract Expressionism in the 1960s. Instead, they sought to absorb the physical world and transform it into an art object. Both require the ability to measure. Of course, the definition of what it means to measure varies wildly.
Specifically with painting, the importance of the frame returns. Where Conceptual Art breaks away from the frame of the canvas or even escapes it entirely, like many works by Frank Stella and Donald Judd, Realism finds ways of relating the frame to the overall composition. Our works play with the ambiguity between the two.
How does a monochromatic image influence the way the proposal is perceived by the viewer?
Using a highly selective colour palette immediately sets the tone of the project, and consequently, the narrative. It tells the viewer that this image is more than a depiction of a scene.
How do models inform your way of working? Do you use them as working models or more to finalise an idea?
We usually begin with an idea, and use physical models to explore variations within that. Starting with models without an initial premise would be like writing without an idea in mind – pure stream of consciousness, which is potentially fruitful, but dangerous in its endless possibilities. As a means to describe an idea, models can be quite powerful. They lend a tactility that is impossible to recreate digitally, and attempts to do so end up circumventing the task of figuring out how best to stage the model, and discoveries made during that process. The translation of a physical model back into an image accounts for a whole set of decisions that can be just as significant as the model.
How does the model help or distance the proposal, in terms of potentially objectifying it?
In a way, the model is the project itself. Like the drawings and collages, they are very much autonomous objects which form the bigger project.
What dictated your choice of colour palette for the maquette in 24 Different Arches?
Supply and demand, really. We liked the yellow paper and white cardboard we saw at the art supply shop, so that gave us the palette. Our search for lights was much more arduous. We wanted to photograph the model with a white light to simulate daylight, but went to five different stores and none of which stocked any bulbs above 3000K! So we ended up using a yellow light bulb in addition to the backdrop.
How could the maquette be further explored through its physical manipulation in programs as photoshop?
Aside from some basic brightness adjustments, we did not do much photoshop manipulation with our model photos. Testing techniques of manipulation in the real world is probably a more interesting challenge.
24 Different Arches_ Proposal for The NY Architecture League’s Folly 2016 Competition.
Twenty-four arches, there they stood amongst the sheds, innocently, unaware that their classical form signified a sense of permanence at odds with their intended lifespan. There she stood, the girl with no expression, thinking, if only she had as clear a direction in her life as the lines of the roof that extended before her, full of purpose. She walked along the perimeter, moving from one shadow of an arch to the next, each time dazzled by the sunlit arcade inside. Soon, she reached where the tree stood, in the only open square. She had to duck her head to enter now. The long corridor view had been replaced by one of interconnected rooms. A kid ran past her, chasing his brother. To them, even the smallest opening must seem large, and she wondered whether the optical illusion was lost on them. And so they carried on, each in their own world, twenty-four hours a day.
Twenty-four Different Arches is about turning fundamental yet ubiquitous architectural elements into the unexpected. It emphasizes the bare necessities: lines, planes, grids, using them as an organizing spatial device as well as for visual effect. Through the play with variable scales – a classic technique of the architectural folly – and symmetry, it provides both the intimate and the monumental. It argues that the individual building elements need not be overly complex, and that the most basic of geometries can create surprising moments.
The main structure is made up of eight walls composed into a nine square grid. Each wall contains three arch shaped openings that increase in size in proportion to the height of the wall. Seen in perspective, the repetition of openings gives the appearance of being uniform in size, an illusion that is broken as soon as it is occupied. The edge of the pavilion is clearly defined, as is the subdivision of the interior space into individual “rooms.” However, like an enfilade grid, the openings allow people to move freely through the space, and between interior and exterior. It also offers a variety of seating arrangements: each square can function as a semi-private room, but the walls are permeable enough to accommodate dispersed seating or a large audience.
The dramatic slope of the roof allows it to be viewed as a single plane from both the interior and exterior. Made out of clear corrugated plastic sheets, it provides a sheltered space of variable heights within the fixed framework of the grid. The transparency of the roof allows sunlight to penetrate below, while the grooves of the corrugation facilitate the flow of water to the edges of the structure.
The entire structure is covered except for the lowest square in the grid, where the roof finishes and natural planting is introduced to create an open courtyard. This is a moment of exception, where the openings become lower than standard head height, but the exterior wall continues along the perimeter of the structure to uphold a sense of enclosure. Like the bow of a ship, this focal point commands a unique vista onto the park, yet retains a sense of mystery by shielding what’s behind to visitors on the outside looking in.
The palette of materials and method of construction aims for clean, simple joints and ease of constructability. The walls will be constructed of wooden framing to be clad in plywood sheets using tilt-up construction, which can be fabricated on site. Similar to a typical wood frame structure, the frame will be situated between the plywood wall assembly, and secured by twelve concrete footings, one at each intersection along the perimeter wall. The walls will be finished off with paint and waterproofing sealant. The roof structure will be constructed out of clear corrugated sheets and fixed to a substructure that spans between each of the eight square grids. The ninth square grid, as noted above, will be open to the exterior, with natural planting and gravel.
New York Masterplan Open Competition
Rather than competing to construct ever higher towers, New York has taken to multiplying the street instead of floor plates. The grid of the plan begins to grow upwards; individual buildings are being thinly sliced as the layers buildup. The iconic New York skyline is no longer legible from afar, subsumed by a light three-dimensional grid bustling with activity – as if the famed blueprint of the city has been flipped up for all to see – blurring the distinctions between building and environment – in essence, merging the city into a single “building”. She was standing next to the Empire State building, ninety-eight floors above the original ground. If she stretched out her hand she could touch the spire, for the path jutted in quite close at the southern façade and made for a rather cozy picnic spot. The ground beneath her feet was light, like a ribbon. It weaved in and around buildings, sometimes hugging the edge of old commercial towers, sometimes shooting out into open space, or squeezing in between thin crevices so narrow it was difficult to avoid brushing against the adjacent brick façade. Clearly, this web of grand boulevards and meandering streets had a life of its own, and yet, wholly relied on the surrounding buildings – their fenestration, materiality, details– to give it character. On the one hand, the multiplication of streets connected the buildings into a larger network. On the other hand, because any given floor now had the potential to connect to an elevated street, the concentration of disparate programs into a single building – the logic of the skyscraper – was now inverted. The building is consequently split into several buildings, once again revealing the unique programs within each floor previously hidden behind a unifying façade.
Her mother, of a generation that could only appreciate the tip of the Empire State as a point soaring above, found it strange to now see the crown so close up. She missed the sense of awe people held towards tall buildings, when one was confronted with the extreme differences in scale between oneself and the building, but her daughter enjoyed this new-found intimacy. The threshold, neither an authoritative line nor a defined buffered zone, was now the primary space of activity. Because of the change in materiality of the street, so did people’s perception of the interior and exterior. People felt like they were always occupying some intermediary space, outside of the building proper yet still within the softened and secure space associated with the interior realm. Doors were now equated with windows, as upper floors could also be ground floors. Her daily routine was so punctuated with interior to exterior transitions that it was no longer necessary to distinguish between the two. Precisely because the elevated streets were imbued with a newfound sense of security, she could walk out onto the “street” from her bedroom window.
The city was so packed there were no visible landmarks anymore. The race to produce landmarks had become moot, and so one could say that New York, as always, was ahead of the game. Tourists from all over used to flock to the observatory decks of the city, waiting in line for hours to get a glimpse of an aerial view of the city grid. Nowadays, however, all the streets functioned like observatories, so that the lobbies to these skyscrapers remained empty even on the best of days. There was no longer a single roofscape; the domineering elite of rooftop gardens and penthouses had disappeared with the elevation and multiplication of the streets. Instead, streets permeated the thicket of buildings, denser in some areas than others, so that on late summer afternoons, the sun created a stippling light effect cascading down the layers of streets. What we’ve essentially done is flip the grid of the city onto its side.” Her father used the term ‘we’ as if he too, was on the board of developers. He was a professor of chemistry in training, but an architectural enthusiast at heart. “Just imagine,” he said between mouthfuls of mashed potato, “reverting back to the days of only one ground floor, how limiting that would be. This is what they call killing two birds with one stone. You get,” and here, he was so excited that he put his fork down momentarily to count out the possibilities with his fingers, “lobbies, parks, swimming pools in the sky. Granted, situating a lobby in the sky is not a new idea. But having a lobby that also connects to a street in the sky? Sheer genius! We reached the limits of duplicating the floor plate, or maybe we just got bored, and now we’re onto duplicating the street. It’s surpassed what Rem Koolhaas called bigness, you know, the architect who designed the Prada store in Lower-lower Soho.” Both mother and daughter shot him a weird look, but a speech had had begun to blossom inside his head and he didn’t seem to notice; he took up his fork again and resumed eating.
“You’re completely missing the point,” her mother countered, shaking her head disapprovingly. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Or at least you shouldn’t.” “Why not? We’ve reached a stage of technological advancement that we can have streets upon streets, and thriving ones at that. The traditional perception of above and below doesn’t make sense anymore because the ground can be both at the same time, creating a new web of density. Mind you, this is fundamentally different from the old utopic visions of bridging between buildings, where the bridge remains the secondary element, a singular thing that one could spot from the ground. Now, there’s a slippery ambiguity between not only above and below, but also boundaries between ground and building. “I think we still need thresholds,” her mother replied, “not to mention how new neighborhoods like the “Upper-upper west” are rather ridiculous sounding.” “No thoughts?” They looked at her. Funny how two people who seemed to hold opposite views on everything could so suddenly join ranks. She shrugged, and reached over to grab the vegetables. She disliked getting in between her parents, and so kept her lips sealed on the matter. After all, who knew if this was the physical democratization of the city or simply power-hungry developers having hit the jackpot?
To meet the void of Central Park was like wandering in the midst of a forest, only to take a few more steps and be confronted with a waterfall. Whoever thought that pure void could be so arresting? In her mind, this cavity was more sublime than the picturesque garden below. Her mother, however, remained nostalgic for Central Park, the joggers, the crowd, the feeling of cool grass against one’s bare skin. Once every few months, mother and daughter would make a trek down through the streets to the park. Because the elevated street system offered so many different routes down to the original ground, they had made a pact to never take the same route twice, and so far, they’ve succeeded in keeping their pact. Every trip took on a different character, and had its own rhythm of elevational changes. Sometimes, they took paths that fed into the central void and then walked down along the edge, conscious of each level of their descent. Other paths turned and twisted so often it was easy to get lost, and when they finally did reach the level of the park it was in complete surprise. Still others were more direct routes down to the original ground level, where they would walk up one of the avenues to enter the park.
New York Temporary Structure
NEW OFFICE WORKS is an architectural practice based in London and New York.
We look for boundaries, rather than indulge in infinite creativity and endless possibilities. We like basic shapes, to use unexpected ways to create ambiguity and to produce significant visual and experiential impact. Architecture is about both semiotics and built form. It can be a means as well as an end in itself. It is the fight against the current but also the backdrop of everyday life.
It was founded in 2014 by Paul Tse, Evelyn Ting, Steven Tsai, and Jason Kim.
Paul Tse received his Master of Architecture from RMIT University in Melbourne, and his Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University GSAPP, where he was awarded the Honor Awards for Excellence in Design, and was a teaching associate for the Kersten Geers’s advanced studio. He has previously worked at Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) in New York. He joined Adjaye Associates in 2011, where he worked as a project lead in London, and played a key role in setting up Adjaye’s Shanghai office.
Evelyn Ting received her Master of Architecture from MIT and her B.A in Architecture at Columbia University. She was the recipient of two full-tuition merit scholarships during her studies at MIT, and a Council of the Arts grant to build a lightweight pavilion in 2014. She was a teaching assistant for MIT’s Core III design studio, and was part of the curatorial team for the U.S pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale. She has previously worked at Ensamble Studio in Madrid and Approach Architecture Studio in Beijing. An avid writer, she has also worked in an editorial capacity on numerous publications, and has been published in Log, Fulcrum, Hinge, and San Rocco.
Steven Tsai received his Master of Architecture from Tulane University’s School of Architecture in New Orleans, and his Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University, GSAPP, where he was a teaching associate for the advanced studio. He has worked at INABA and Koko Architecture, where he oversaw the design and construction of numerous residential projects. He is currently a lead designer at EDG Architecture.
Jason Kim received his Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Southern California, and his Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University, GSAPP. He currently works as a designer at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP SOM) in New York. Previously, he has worked at VM Design Studio, Sayigh + Duman and Fernando Romero Enterprise. He was part of the curatorial team for the Dominican Republic at the 2014 Venice Biennale. He was the winner of the Intermediate Prize for ArchiWorld Academy Awards Competition in 2012.