ARCHITECT caught up with Ada Tolla, Intl. Assoc. AIA, who is the co-founder of LOT-EK with Giuseppe Lignano, Intl. Assoc. AIA, to discuss plans for "The Cubes," a new permanent home for the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, N.Y. The Cubes re-uses and expands upon a previous project LOT-EK had designed for the Whitney Museum (now the Met Breuer), and anticipates a spring 2017 groundbreaking.
ARCHITECT: How did this project begin?
Tolla: In a very interesting, strange, surprising, and totally by chance way, although not without serendipity. We designed an art studio at the Whitney Museum in 2012. The museum had sold a lot of its auxiliary spaces around the Breuer building, and didn’t have space to do workshops. They asked us to help them set up something temporary, and we filled in the biggest volume we could put in the courtyard that could be craned in and out. We have an amazing love and respect for the Breuer building, and our design was inspired by doing something that interacted with the building and that engaged its geometry. It was basically thought of as a cube made of six [shipping] containers, with one operation—a plane that sliced the cube along a diagonal that generated skylights in the cube.
So when did Socrates Sculpture Park get involved?
When the Whitney Museum moved, it started talking to institutions about claiming the studio, and Socrates Sculpture Park came forward pretty quickly, because they’re an outdoor space. On our end, we’ve always been really engaged with Socrates: We like what they do, we like the waterfront location, but also its engagement with the community. The park's re-use of a leftover site also ties into the history of artists moving into marginal spaces.
[Representatives for] Socrates said 'Yes, we want to take the space.' The Sculpture Park doesn’t have any indoor facilities, only outdoor facilities, so they were excited to get an indoor space. They quickly realized that this was an opportunity to consolidate and to think about being on the ground as well and adding space to house workshops and winter events. They came back and said, 'While you’re re-making the cube, we want you to expand it.'
What does that expansion involve?
It’s really three volumes that are indoor, plus one that is outdoors. Inside, they’re slightly different. The only double-height space will be the one existing cube [from the Whitney]. The bottom level inside will be nice indoor facilities where they can do winter workshops.
How adaptable is the structure for Socrates Sculpture Park?
In a way, it’s inherently adaptable because it’s based on a module. We had chosen a site that is a little bit of a niche, and it works very well because it’s at the entrance to the park, so you can go and get information on what’s going on in the park. It’s nestled in an area that is shaded and has trees. It’s lifted on a berm, because we’re in a flooding zone. The possibility of adding to it is definitely there in terms of structure, but in terms of siting, it’s confined by its place right now. We’ve done a lot of work with Socrates, and at this point they really know what they need.
How does your design relate to what is already in the Sculpture Park?
Because Mark di Suvero‘s work is all from the I-beam and steel profiles, there was an immediate link to the beginning module of architecture. Shipping containers seemed like a great marriage.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. See more images and information about The Cubes in ARCHITECT's Project Gallery.