The Shed at Hudson Yards unveiled in New York
Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel may be the most visually expressive piece in Hudson Yards, but the opening of The Shed – a new cultural organisation dedicated to commissioning and developing original works of art across all disciplines and for all audiences – promises to be the most impactful. Its highly anticipated arrival this week not only puts its vibrant, opening programme of musical performances and art in the spotlight, but also gives visitors the chance to finally experience its innovative, adaptable building, designed by lead architect Diller Scofidio + Renfro and collaborating architect Rockwell Group, in the flesh.
In development since 2008, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group’s design for The Shed is a 200,000 sq ft structure that can physically transform to suit and support the needs of the artists. The eight-level building comprises two levels of gallery space, a theatre, a creative lab for local artists, a rehearsal space and an event space, all anchored by a 17,000 sq ft courtyard space (known as The McCourt), suited for large-scale performances, events and installations. These can be both indoors or outdoors, depending on whether the building’s telescoping outer shell is retracted or not. Made possible by its exposed steel diagrid frame that is moved by a kinetic system inspired by gantry cranes found in shipping ports and railway systems, the movable shell rests on large bogie wheel assemblies that only requires 180 horsepower (a Toyota Prius uses 134 horsepower) to deploy.
Amongst the building’s many unique aspects is the fact that it was initially designed without an official client in mind. The curatorial and administrative team, lead by artistic director and CEO Alex Poots, was only established years later, in 2014. Left up to their own devices, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group created a concept that placed the needs of the arts, artists and performers at its front and centre.
‘We started this project with an observation,’ recalled Liz Diller, during her remarks at the press preview of The Shed. ‘Arts in New York are siloed – from visual arts to performing arts and music. That’s not how artists think today, and what about tomorrow? Or two, three decades from now. We cannot know, so we began the project with an ethos and a hunch: an anti-institutional institution that would house all the arts under one roof, in a building responsive to the ever-changing needs of artists in all media at all scales, indoors and out. The building had to be flexible, so flexible that it could even change its size on demand.’
The impact of The Shed is far from confined to its forward-thinking design. Its programming, which Poots developed with visionaries and talents in multiple fields, kicks off with a five-night concert – ‘Soundtrack of America’ – that celebrates the impact of African American music on contemporary culture, which was conceived by filmmaker Steve McQueen and Quincy Jones, among others. In one gallery, the world premiere of ‘Reich Richter Part’ sets an installation of new works by the artist Gerhard Richter against new musical pieces by the composer Steve Reich. Each presentation also begins with choral performances of ‘Richter Part’, a previous collaboration between the artist and Estonian composer Arvo Part that was developed by Poots and The Shed’s senior program advisor Hans Ulrich Obrist in 2015. Another gallery houses new work by the artist Trisha Donnelly, and in the theatre, yet another performance, ‘Norma Jeane Baker of Troy’ starring Ben Whishaw and Renee Fleming, will commence from 9 April.
The potential for this new contemporary arts institution – the first in New York in decades – knows few bounds. Built on city land, and not developer-based, The Shed’s arrival is a cultural beacon that will appeal and be accessible to audiences of all backgrounds. Many civic initiatives have been put in place to enable underprivileged youth and communities access to the programmes on offer. As Jonathan Tisch, vice chairman of The Shed’s board of directors, says: ‘There are many great institutions in our city, but many are about the past, and The Shed is about the future.’ §