offers a critique of the NEA grant for Culture Shed, the Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group design for a Kunsthalle with retractable roofs over at Hudson Yards."/>

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Comments Posted 07.20.10 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Alexandra Lange

Culture Shed: Where's the Neighborhood?


CultureGrrl offers a critique of the NEA grant for Culture Shed, the Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group design for a Kunsthalle with retractable roofs over at Hudson Yards.

I regard this as an inappropriate diversion of federal art funds. NEA grants should appropriately go to the new facility’s cultural programming, if and when it’s actually up and running, but not for its design and construction. NEA should serve the needs of the existing cultural community (not speculative and ambiguous new ventures) and should leave the creation of new facilities, with still uncertain uses, to private funders or other government agencies whose mission involves supporting redevelopment construction projects.

I have never thought much about NEA funding, since it hasn’t, until now, been a major player in architecture and design. But I think there are several more angles from which this grant, and the Culture Shed project as a whole, could be critiqued.

The Hudson Yards project included, from the start, a location for such a Kunsthalle, hard by the westward spur of the High Line. In each of the five original proposals for the railyard this site was an architectural highlight, and one of the places where the High Line and the yards were most closely intertwined. Even on the city’s rezoning proposal for the site, they had a little fun with it, rendering it as a Gehry-esque blob. So the idea of a gem of expressive architecture on this site is well-established.

What isn’t yet established is any timetable or overall planning document for the Yards, making Culture Shed’s likelihood minimal. Should the NEA really give money ($100,000 is basically architect’s fees) for something that’s so far in the future? And something, as CultureGrrl points out, that has no tenants or specific programming?

I also question the architectural idea. No one wants a building that’s empty all the time, so those retractable roofs seem like both a clever solution and a sculptural event in themselves. But as with all inflatable-retractable-temporary ideas, the real question is whether they work. Work all the time, work easily, and prove to be as light on the land as the renderings promise. I’m tired of “lightweight” solutions that require more engineering than their old-fashioned permanent alternative.

In addition, CultureGrrl quotes the NEA’s three justifications for such grants:

1) The arts are a force for social cohesion and civic engagement. People who participate in the arts are more likely to engage in other civic activities, leading to more stable neighborhoods.

2) The arts are a force for child welfare: low income populations with high cultural participation rates are more than twice as likely to have very low truancy and delinquency rates.

3) And finally, the arts are a poverty fighter. They do this through direct employment, and they do this by leveraging other jobs: the restaurants, retail stores, and hotels that spring up alongside cultural districts.

And comments:

But for most art lovers, these supposed “three main effects” of the arts — social cohesion, child welfare, poverty-fighting — are way down the list of why we think the arts are important and deserve funding.

That’s true, but socio-economic justifications for the arts are something we true believers have to live with and use to communicate with the un-aestheticized world. My issue is that none of these justifications are present to any degree at Hudson Yards. 1) It doesn’t exist as a neighborhood. 2) City, state and developer are still fighting about how child-friendly (and child-filled) the neighborhood is going to be. Will there be a library and a big-enough elementary school for all the families in those mega-towers? 3) Poverty? There might be some affordable housing mixed into the project, but I don’t think that’s going to be the area’s main problem. Transportation is. The restaurants, retail stores and hotels are likely to be built long before Culture Shed. The idea of unslumming a non-existent neighborhood via culture just seems nuts.

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Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect's Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.
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BOOKS BY Alexandra Lange

Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities
Princeton Architectural Press, 2012

Design Research
Chronicle Books, 2010

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