This feat of architectural engineering is part of the Shed, an art and performance space that will become the latest spectacle along New York’s High Line. While the Shed won’t be up and running for more than a year, it can now do this neat five-minute ballet on six-foot wheels.
When first announced, the project was vaguely conceived. Located where the High Line runs smack into the massive West Side development project called Hudson Yards, the Shed seemed hardly more than an architectural trophy, with no obvious reason for being, other than to appease a skeptical public with the promise of some “cultural” amenity on the site of one of the largest and most valuable real estate deals in New York.
Since then, an impresario named Alex Poots, formerly of the Manchester International Festival and the Park Avenue Armory, has taken over programming for the Shed and looks to be giving it a rationale. We’ll see, when the place opens in 2019.
Meanwhile the building, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Rockwell Group, is already taking shape: a six-story box, spooning with an apartment tower and encased inside that telescoping shell, which consists of an enormous steel exoskeleton of slender, crisscrossed columns, like Art Nouveau vines, supporting a feather-light, translucent-white polymer skin.
The gossamer-looking but gigantic structure still weighs in at 8 million pounds but glides on a half-dozen exposed steel “bogies,” or wheels, six-feet in diameter,
with tapered bearings so meticulously engineered that the system requires just six 15-horsepower motors —
In its scale, this faintly quaint, eloquently designed contraption aspires to conjure up the spirit of those 19th-century exemplars of elegant engineering like the Brooklyn Bridge or the Eiffel Tower: industrial-era monuments of structural form, both necessary and sufficient, ingenious but not space age, encapsulating the aspirations of a city.
One might also recall the classic photograph from 1857 of Isambard Brunel, the English engineer, dwarfed beside the launching chains of the S.S. Great Eastern.
When opened, the shell will drape over the Shed’s sprawling plaza at Hudson Yards, which can then be made into a movie palace or a gallery for art or a theater with bleacher seats — a flexible new 17,000 square foot public space for New York at what promises to be one of the city’s busiest pedestrian intersections after all the commercial skyscrapers around it are built.
At the same time, the Shed’s movable shell becomes a kind of kinetic sculpture, more aesthetic and functional than the clunky, pointless climbing gym that the site’s developers have commissioned from Thomas Heatherwick, the gifted but unreliable British showman:
Videos: Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Images: Robert Howlett (Brunel); Timothy Schenck (highline view); Heatherwick Studio (Heatherwick building).
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