After 11 years and two mayoral administrations, The Shed (now just the name of the administering arts center, with the physical structure housing the organization having been renamed The Bloomberg Building) is nearly ready to open. On April 5, this Friday, the public will finally get to venture inside Manhattan’s newest, and largest, cultural institution.
As Hudson Yards welcomes the Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group–designed multidisciplinary arts center, much has been written about the building’s central, inescapable feature. The 120-foot-tall outer shell, clad in ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) “pillows,” can extend out from the base building when needed for larger performances, covering the public plaza and creating the 17,000-square-foot, climate-controlled McCourt space. When the shell is rolled back, the 20,000-square-foot outdoor plaza can be used for open-air performances. Art is even part of the very ground below, as artist Lawrence Weiner has embedded IN FRONT OF ITSELF in 12-foot-high letters using colored pavers throughout the plaza.
As Elizabeth Diller and David Rockwell have repeatedly described, The Shed was conceived with maximum flexibility in mind. The comparisons and claims of inspiration from Cedric Price’s unrealized, constantly changing 1964 Fun Palace have been overt, whether rightly or wrongly. Either way, there’s no contesting that the space represents a blank space for artists to call their own.
“I see the building as an ‘architecture of infrastructure,’ all muscle, no fat,” said Diller, “and responsive to the ever-changing needs of artists into a future we cannot predict. Success for me would mean that the building would stand up to challenges presented by artists, while challenging them back in a fruitful dialogue.”
Four stories of programming live inside the eight-level base building. Floors two and four hold a combined 25,000 square feet of gallery spaces without columns and with 19-foot-tall ceilings. From April 6 through June 2, the second level gallery will display Reich Richter Pärt, a combination of choir songs from composer Steve Reich set against tapestries and wallpaper, some of them room-spanning, from artist Gerhard Richter. Swinging glass doors on the eastern walls of each gallery can open them up to the McCourt, allowing the venue to add additional seating when necessary.
The sixth floor holds the Kenneth C. Griffin Theater, an 11,700-square-foot black box space with a 500-seat capacity. The theater can also be split in two to host smaller shows.
On the top floor are the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Skylights, a wide, multipurpose section that affords one of the few views towards the rest of Hudson Yards, including a prominent view of Vessel. The open area features 9,500-square-feet of flexible event space, the 1,700-square-foot Tisch Lab for local artists, and a 3,300-square-foot rehearsal space. The two namesake skylights provide the entire floor with plenty of natural light, making up for the difference in ceiling heights found throughout the rest of the building—the eighth floor’s ceiling is noticeably lower.
Hints of the building’s superstructure and its transforming shell are ever-present. The Bloomberg Building’s central set of scissoring escalators run parallel with the glass curtain wall and affords ample views of the shell, and the bent seam where the shell meets the adjoining tower. Inside the McCourt, the steel diagrid underpinning the ETFE facade reveals itself, creating a vastly different experience than viewing the building from outside. The High Line runs level with the windows on the second floor, reinforcing the connection to the park, strangely minimizing the feeling that the building is part of Hudson Yards proper.
The Shed opens on April 5 with Soundtrack of America, a five-night concert series conceived and directed by Steve McQueen that celebrates the worldwide impact of African American music. The full lineup is available on The Shed’s website, here.