Charles Renfro on the evolution of gallery design at Frieze Week

Charles Renfro on the evolution of gallery design at Frieze Week

The Frieze Academy’s Art & Architecture Conference kicked off outside of the Frieze London tent in the more sedate environment of the Royal Institution, Mayfair. This year’s theme ‘Designing spaces to show, make and live with art’ focused on how architecture has shaped the cultural landscape.

The audience were treated to a line-up of the some of the UK’s most active and influential architects, as well as a flying visit from Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) who stepped onto the red-eye flight from NY, to take the place of Liz Diller. Renfro did not disappoint with his quick fire responses to Ollie Wainwright, The Guardian’s architectural critic, and ability to shake off the standard line of critique – escalating real estate prices – levelled at the High Line in New York. Renfro was always one step ahead – the project had predicted 400,000 visitors but received eight million in its first year, a resounding success story.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s design for New York’s High Line changed the perception of urban public space and has been a huge success

Wainwright’s probed into the relationship between the firm’s cultural project, The Shed, and rising housing values – the 10-storey Shed is nested into a 70-storey residential tower in a prime block of NY land, which could be read as a cosy coupling between real estate and art. But Renfro hit back, stating that Alex Poots – former director of Manchester International Festival and now creative director of The Shed – has designated a whole floor of the building to a production workshop, a gesture intended to mitigate the lack of artistic space in the former meatpacking district.

The Shed’s main feature is the Polymer transparent sliding roof canopy, which incidentally uses the same amount of electricity as a Prius engine running for half an hour-the roof when deployed doubles the building’s performance area. This is ‘architecture of the unanticipated,’ explains Renfro. ‘There is no way to anticipate the future of art.’

Renfro started his presentation with images of an earlier DS+R project, Mural, 2014, where automated drills systematically bore into four interior walls at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The walls eventually collapse – a comment on the systems and structures of the institutional gallery space. Now they have the opportunity to design a building which could be a strong contender for pushing the typology of spaces for cultural production.

Sir David Chipperfield – who opened the conference and was recently commissioned by the Royal Academy to design its extensive expansion – reminded the audience of the complexity of competing visions for the gallery, from the curators to those in charge of visitor experience: ‘They are not coherent spaces but nevertheless they have a strong pull for architects.’