The big reveal at this week’s press conference for the Shed—the ambitious new art center currently under construction on Manhattan’s West Side—was that the project had lately received a donation of $45 million from businessman Frank H. McCourt Jr. The Shed chief curator Alex Poots made the announcement while standing before of a panel of artists, filmmakers, poets and more, each of whom will be heading up one or the other of the institution’s planned initiatives. The program for the venue has seemed rather confoundingly diffuse from the get go, and the only overarching theme that emerged from the preview event was articulated by artist Agnes Denes, a Shed contributor who extolled the undertaking as a socially generative exercise in creative experiment. “Creativity,” Denes said, “is hope.”
Forty-five million should buy quite a lot of that. It has also helped to buy the new building from New York firms Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group, the signature feature of which is a giant retractable canopy (the “shed” part of the Shed) that will allow the structure to host indoor as well as outdoor exhibitions, concerts, performances and more. Architect Elizabeth Diller cited Cedric Price’s celebrated Fun Palace proposal of 1964 as an inspiration in creating a space of near-infinite potential. “We came to the conclusion that we have no idea what the arts are going to look like tomorrow or in the next 10 years,” Diller said while leading a tour of the structure after the mid-morning panel. The Shed, as she described, represents “an architecture of infrastructure”—a neutral frame for whatever its artistic users care to hang off of it.
In addition to the large main program hall sheltered by the steel-girt mobile box (which slides, when activated, along rack-and-pinion rails) the building also includes eight stories of interior space for exhibitions, rehearsals, and music and theatrical presentations. The premier locale for the latter two will be The McCourt theater, named for the project’s generous benefactor and with a seating capacity of 1,250. Altogether, Diller said, the Shed “has actually become even more flexible over the life of the project,” as Poots and the other collaborators’ input has encouraged the architects to expand their reach and allow for still greater functional adaptability.
That quality seemed very much present as one stood under the unfinished canopy superstructure, still waiting for the majority of its bubble-like ETFE cladding to come into place. Standing in the middle of the bustling construction site, Diller confessed a half-serious wish that the process would never stop—“I love construction sites,” she said—since it meant that all the building’s future potential remained indefinitely latent and inchoate. It almost seems a realistic possibility: Very little appeared to have changed on site since a previous visit in September, and no definitive completion date has been declared. The architects and curators, however, seem confident however that by spring of 2019, the Shed would be open for business—whatever that business should turn out to be.
For new renderings and more construction images of the Shed, visit ARCHITECT's Project Gallery.