Crit: Afterparty at P.S. 1

Crit: Afterparty at P.S. 1

Despite being the work of the talented firm MOS, Afterparty is a disappointment.
Victoria Monjo

This year, in addition to building the annual party pavilion, P.S.1 and MoMA are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Young Architects Program (YAP) with two exhibitions: a survey of the program’s history in Queens, and a small show on 2009’s five finalists in Manhattan. The shows offer an opportunity to reflect on the program’s overall impact and to give some context to this year’s scheme, Afterparty, designed by the talented architects MOS.

Hanging out—or over—P.S.1.
It’s hard to tell the sheath is a real, organic material and not just fake fur.
The underside does not look so good either.
One of the original stark renderings that won MOS the P.S.1 commission.
All photographs victoria Monjo; rendering courtesy MOS

Afterparty, according to a wall text at MoMA, “presents the minimum essentials of space, structure, and environment. The title refers to contemporary architecture’s obligation, in the current economic and ecological crisis, to seek out and take on new roles—in a period of renewed austerity ‘after the party,’ so to speak.”

Rather than austerity, the renderings spoke to a gloom very much in the air at the beginning of the year when the selection was announced. It simultaneously evoked industrial ruins and primitive huts. The complex sequence of tower cones and the generally heavy appearance, however, seemed to reject a minimal approach to structure and spatial experience. The entry’s moody, enigmatic quality overshadowed such concerns, however, with a provocative beauty.

As built, Afterparty is hardly photogenic, and is not so alluring in person—all awkward proportions and lumpy surfaces. The thatched exterior, which in the renderings was to be variegated from grays and brown to almost white, appears to be an almost uniformly brown mat of fake fur. One has to touch the hot and scratchy surface—which is supposed to provide comfort in an already hot and dusty P.S.1 courtyard—to realize it is made of natural vegetation, not synthetic material.

The material is affixed to a cheap-looking mylar netting visible underneath. The structure is a system of standard aluminum fence poles. Inside, the experience is somewhat better. Afterparty offers plenty of shade, and some cooling, though that seems to come as much from the mechanical sprinklers installed in the cones as from the much-touted chimney effect of the cones’ design.

In truth, this rendering-versus-reality problem has dogged YAP throughout its history. Few of the previous pavilions had done much to temper the harsh environment of the walled courtyard, and most have been poorly constructed and fared badly over the course of the summer. These results spring from the constraints of a compressed timeline and a tiny budget. Many teams have tried to overcome these limitations with outside donations and hordes of student laborers. But this is also the result of a program that has privileged the kind of showy formalism that Afterparty claims to critique, while in fact merely wrapping it in a scratchy fur coat.

MoMA may be tacitly acknowledging the shortcomings of the project in its small exhibition: There are no photographs of the project as built, only those beautiful renderings. Both exhibitions tout the program as a launching pad for young firms, and this has often been the case. As YAP moves into its second decade, however, both institutions would be well served by examining more closely the process and priorities of the program.

The construction schedule could be extended or the budget expanded. Materials could be provided in advance or recycled from year to year. The program should emphasize innovations in construction and quality building just as it emphasizes form-making. In the ten years since YAP was launched, architecture has claimed a larger place in the public’s imagination. As it moves into adolescence, YAP should deliver compelling temporary architecture, not just compelling images.

A version of this article appeared in AN_07.29.2009.