With the Hearst Tower and the New York Times Building gleaming in the distance, the inaugural Iron Designer Challenge was held on the rooftop at the Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction (SDC) last week. The challenge? To build a full-scale emergency shelter in three hours and in front of a live audience.
Given a palette of materials, each team selected the intended climate and the aftermath of what type of catastrophe (volcano, oil spill, robot attack...) their shelter would withstand.
A list of materials-to-be-expected was handed out prior to the event, including PVC pipes, fabrics, safety cones, rope, cardboard, dowels, and cable zip ties galore. An hour and a half into the challenge, the secret ingredient was revealed: multicolored tiles of glass and resin. Here, the Cerami team constructs the skeleton of their "Beach Protection Variable Cabana" during the first hour.
SDC's principal (along with fittingly-named band "Rooftop Walkers") kicked off the event and highlighted the night's cause. "The fundraising goal includes material supplies, field trips, portfolios and college visits for the school’s inner-city high school students, whose goals are to become tomorrow’s engineers, construction managers and architects."
A total of ten New York firms tossed their hard hats into the ring -- each team was comprised of two high school students from SDC, as well as four firm representatives.
The poker-faced judging panel was comprised of David Burney, Commissioner of NYC's Department of Design and Construction, Gregg Pasquarelli, Principal at SHoP Architects, Caroline Payson, Director of Education at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and Joel Towers, Dean of Parsons the New School for Design.
Inspired by the nautical environment, the entry from Omni Architects boasted a sail-influenced and 'wind-optimized' form, capturing the award for Structural Innovation.
Parsons Brinckerhoff brought their Polar Builders Team, building a three-arch structure with a 'stressed-skin' envelope designed for survival in an Arctic fjord.
Perkins + Will debuted their Rumble in the Jungle, with a shed overhang roof, rope cross-tensioning, built-in banana hanging rack, and the very popular Island Chess Set.
The Robert Silman team built their Desert Sandstorm-withstanding unit, and won Best Use of Secret Material for their 'homage-to-kids' play tiles at the entrance (although I felt Omni could have given them a run for their money with their glass-resin rotating shelves).
Self-replicating nanobots were the foe of Turner Construction, who designed a central tension ellipsoid ring structure as the basic connection between roof and vertical support, complete with cardboard scales and community signage flags.
From Project Oasis by Thornton Tomasetti we saw a set of operating panels to serve as shading, rainwater collection, insulation, and ventilation in the parched setting of New Mexico.
The overarching winner was Gensler, whose Second-Aid hurricane disaster shower station snatched both the People's Choice and the overall Iron Designer award. Each triangular shower unit is designed to be a part of a larger hexagonal cluster, and it can also function for living, storage, water collection (with the funnel top), and the Dhyana meditation pose.
I'd been expecting slightly more of a solid, durable feel to the results of an Iron Designer contest, but the no-power-tools stipulation ruled out the use of any 2x4s or heavier materials. While it's not the first time that the concept of 'Iron Designer' has been summoned as the theme for a design competition (see Columbia GSAPP's event at Spacebuster last year), the idea has yet to be executed successfully for the silver screen. As for now, we'll take these deployable structures in celebration of a worthy fundraiser over HGTV's Design Star any day.