The Shed, an ambitious, city-sponsored arts organization in the heart of Manhattan’s Hudson Yards, opens to the public this Friday, April 5. The inaugural events of the season range from Cornucopia, which Björk describes as her "most elaborate stage concert yet," to exhibitions dedicated to extant and newly commissioned works by lauded artists Trisha Donnelly and Agnes Denes. The lineup, which focuses on performance-based work, is unusually flexible, and so is The Shed’s new home: the 200,000-square-foot Bloomberg Building (in which The Shed is housed) physically transforms to accommodate artists installations and performances.
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Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and the Rockwell Group, The Shed was part of an original deal struck in 2005 by the project’s developers, Related Companies and Oxford Properties Group, with then-mayor Michael Bloomberg, after whom the building is named.
"Nearly 15 years ago, Mayor Mike Bloomberg had the vision to embark on a complete transformation of Manhattan’s west side, and he had the foresight to know the Hudson Yards area needed a cultural anchor to ensure a vibrant and accessible future," says Daniel L. Doctoroff, chairman of The Shed’s board of directors. "The Shed is key to that vision."
The Shed’s mission is to commission and showcase original works of art—from hip hop to classical music, from painting and sculpture to literature, from film and theater to dance—and converge both leading and emerging artists and thinkers from all disciplines under one roof.
The eight-level base building includes two expansive, column-free galleries totaling 25,000 square feet of museum-quality space and a 500-seat theater that can be subdivided into more intimate spaces. An events venue that doubles as a rehearsal room is situated on the top floor.
Perhaps most remarkable is the movable outer shell, which can double the building’s footprint when set in motion over the adjoining plaza to create The McCourt. The shell is an exposed steel, diagrid frame clad in translucent, lightweight Teflon-based polymer, called ethylene tetrafluoroethylene. When deployed using a double-wheel track based on gantry crane technology, it creates a 17,000-square-foot, climate-controlled courtyard for large-scale performances, installations, and events for audiences of over 2,000 strong.
Described by New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman as being "eye-catchingly swathed in a tufted Teflon-based sheeting that can bring to mind inflated dry cleaning bags," The Shed has not been without its naysayers—which is perhaps to be expected considering the controversy surrounding the Hudson Yards at large.
The largest, most expensive, mixed-use private real estate venture in American history, Hudson Yards is a $25 billion neighborhood sitting atop the eastern section of the Long Island Rail Yard. It currently includes five skyscrapers; a seven-story, 720,000-square-foot shopping mall; and The Vessel—a public landmark designed by British designer Thomas Heatherwick. When complete in 2035, Hudson Yards will also cover the western portion of the rail yard, occupying 28 acres in total.
As for The Shed, critics questioned its purpose from the start—in particular why the city would grant such a gigantic sum to something that hadn’t yet existed, when there were many worthy, tangible art institutions deserving of donations.
Alex Poots, artistic director and CEO of The Shed, feels that the project’s value is in its diversity. "We have built a home where established and emerging artists working in all disciplines can create new work in ways that we cannot even imagine," he says. "Beginning on April 5, 2019, The Shed’s community of neighbors, New Yorkers, and visitors from around the world will come together to experience the widest range of art forms in spaces that can accommodate artists’ most inventive and ambitious ideas."
Update (5/15/19): Björk’s ears must have been burning while The Shed was still going up. Last week, she met Poots’ challenge by revealing one such ambitious idea at the opening of her month-long residency of Cornucopia.
In partnership with acoustic creatives at Arup, the artist painstakingly designed a small, pill-shaped vocal chamber that projects the intimate acoustics within—i.e. Björk’s delicate, yet powerful voice—to a large-scale audience. The solitary room is both sanctuary and instrument of natural, lush reverberation.
To develop the reverb room, Arup’s acoustic designers worked iteratively with Björk’s team, but also closely with Björk herself. She started with sketches that mimicked the Sydney Opera House, other natural forms, and sound sculptures like Iceland’s Tvisöngur. Arup then used its SoundLab to tweak a simulation of the chamber from which Björk would belt until she felt it evoked a particular feeling of intimacy.
This level of involvement isn’t a surprise from the rule-breaking artist. "Björk is an inspiring collaborator—deeply creative and dedicated to exploring the outer limits of her work both musically and technically," says Arup designer Shane Myrbeck. "She challenges her creative teams to work in the realm of the unknown and unprecedented, while balancing her whimsy with a remarkable depth of technical knowledge of even the most arcane aspects of her craft."