Surface Mag Interviews Liz Diller on Architecture, Art, and Early “Aha” Moments

© Ungano + Agriodima

Below is an excerpt of the cover story of this month’s Surface magazine: an in-depth interview with , published online for the first time here on ArchDaily.

The 35-year career of Elizabeth Diller, a founding partner of the New York–based architecture studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is a study of contrasts: conceptual and pragmatic, temporary and permanent, iconoclastic and institutional. After graduating from Cooper Union in 1979, Diller started her practice mounting temporary installations with her partner and future husband, Ricardo Scofidio, their interests leaning closer to art and theory than conventional buildings and construction. Today the duo—along with Charles Renfro, who became a partner in 2004—is responsible for some of the most important architectural projects in the country. DS+R counts Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (completed in 2006) and a makeover of New York’s Lincoln Center (finalized in 2012) among its highest-profile works. Especially influential, at least among architects and academics, has been the firm’s unbuilt Slow House (1991), a proposal for a residence on Long Island, New York, renowned for its examination of how we see in a media-saturated world.

One notices sharp contrasts not just in the firm’s work history but in its public reception as well. Widely lauded for repurposing a dilapidated elevated railway into New York City’s beloved High Line park (the third phase opened in September), DS+R received heavy criticism this year for its involvement in a major expansion proposal for the Museum of Modern Art. The museum’s plans included the demolition of its little-guy neighbor, the American Folk Art Museum; despite efforts to work the idiosyncratic building into the design scheme, Diller’s studio, hired to lead the expansion, ultimately acknowledged that the structure couldn’t be saved.

Surface recently met with Diller at her office in Manhattan to speak about the ensuing controversy, as well as early career experiences that have influenced her firm’s recent commissions for cultural institutions, including the current exhibition “Musings on a Glass Box” at the Cartier Foundation in Paris (through Feb. 25, 2015), a collaboration with composer David Lang and sound designer Jody Elff. Diller, 60, is pensive and surprisingly relaxed for someone whose aides are constantly interrupting her to remind her of meetings she has to attend. She speaks with an erudite inflection befitting her academic credentials and professional accolades (she is, after all, a professor at Princeton and a MacArthur “genius grant” recipient), though she smiles with the ease of an affable neighbor.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s “Musings on a Glass Box” Opens in Paris

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In celebration of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain’s 30th anniversary, Diller Scofidio + Renfro has installed an immersive exhibition that encourages visitors to experience the Jean Nouvel-designed, glass and steel museum building in an entirely new way.

“The Fondation Cartier building designed by Jean Nouvel will be used as raw material for their work, a first in the history of the institution. Musings on a Glass Box is a complex work occupying the entire ground floor of the Fondation Cartier, where a disturbance in the ceiling will trigger a surprising reaction. The result is an immersive environment, including an integral acoustic component by American composer David Lang and sound designer Jody Elff, that works with the building’s architecture to raise questions about transparency, perception, and one’s relation to space.”

A statement from Diller Scofidio + Renfro, after the break.

Diller, Scofidio + Renfro to Design Colorado Springs’ Olympic Museum

Downtown Springs via Wikipedia

The US Olympic Museum committee has selected Diller, Scofidio + Renfro to design a $60 million museum in downtown Colorado Springs. The -based practice will collaborate with Anderson Mason Dale Architects of Denver and exhibit designer Gallagher & Associates to showcase the Olympic and Paralympic’s history through exhibits and artifacts. Once complete by early 2018, the museum will include a hall of fame, theater, a 20,000-square-foot exhibit hall and retail space. Designs are expected to be released by mid-2015.

The High Line’s Final Chapter is Complete; But Don’t Close the Book Just Yet

View looking west along one of the Rail Track Walks. Image © Iwan Baan, 2014 (Section 3)

With the opening of the final section of New York’s High Line last month, the city can finally take stock on an urban transformation that took a decade and a half from idea to reality - and which in the five years since the first section opened has become one of the great phenomena of 21st century urban planning, inspiring copycat proposals in cities around the globe. In this article, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as “The High Line’s Last Section Plays Up Its Rugged Past,” Anthony Paletta reviews the new final piece to the puzzle, and examines what this landmark project has meant for ’s West Side.

The promise of any urban railroad, however dark or congested its start, is the eventual release onto the open frontier, the prospect that those buried tracks could, in time, take you anywhere. For those of us whose only timetable is our walking pace, this is the experience of the newly opened, final phase of the High Line. The park, after snaking in its two initial stages through some 20 dense blocks of Manhattan, widens into a broad promenade that terminates in an epic vista of the Hudson. It’s a grand coda and a satisfying finish to one of the most ambitious park designs in recent memory.

Take a Walk on the High Line with Iwan Baan

View looking west along one of the Rail Track Walks. Image © Iwan Baan, 2014 (Section 3)

Sunday marked the completion of the New York City High Line, a three-phased project that transformed the once disused elevated rail tracks on Manhattan’s West Side into one of the world’s most respected public parks. With the first section opening in 2009, architectural photographer Iwan Baan has been documenting the entire process. Now, for the first time we present to you a photographic journey through the completed designed by James Corner Field Operations with Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Take a look, after the break.

The High Line’s Third (and Final) Section Opens this Weekend

Fantastic news: the High Line at the Rail Yards – the third and northernmost section of the park – will be opening to the public on Sunday, September 21! Read the full announcement: http://bit.ly/RailYardsOpening Photo of the Interim Walkway, one of the new design features in the Rail Yards, by Kathleen Fitzgerald | OCD

This Sunday (September 21), the third and final section of the City High Line will open at the Rail Yards. You can expect to see familiar benches morphed into picnic tables and seesaws amongst a lush, diverse and seemingly unkept landscape that is reminiscent of the “forgotten” tracks. As Piet Oudolf - the Dutch garden designer who worked with James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio & Renfro - described, the $75 million northernmost section will be an “introduction to the wild” that responds directly to the public’s desire to “walk on the original tracks.” Stay tuned for more images from the opening.

“Moskva: Urban Space” Investigates the Future of Moscow’s Public Realm at the 2014 Venice Biennale

© Patricia Parinejad

In their collateral event for the debut of the Moscow pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the exhibition “Moskva: urban space“ explores the historic development of public spaces and examines the city’s progress in the context of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s winning proposal for Zaryadye Park. Curated by Sergey Kuznetsov, Chief Architect of Moscow together with Kristin Kristin Feireiss from AEDES, and organized by MCA – Moscow Committee of Architecture and , the exhibition comes at a pivotal moment in determining the future of in Moscow. As Kuznetsov states, “While the face of Moscow in the past 100 years was largely determined by the architecture of its buildings, representing political and economic developments, today’s urban singularity is based on the “connective fabric” of its public spaces that have become equally important identity-makers and contributes significantly to improving the quality of urban life for its citizens.” To see photos of the exhibition by Patricia Parinejad and learn more about the story behind it, continue reading after the break.

The Berlage Archive: Elizabeth Diller (1998)

ArchDaily has teamed up with the The Berlage to provide exclusive access to their newly digitized archive of lectures. is a postgraduate international institute where some of the world’s most renowned architects, thinkers, designers, photographers and other professionals come to share, exchange and critically reflect upon their ideas. Over the last 23 years, has built up an extensive archive of seminal lectures. Thanks to this partnership we can now share them with you. ArchDaily is committed to providing inspiration and knowledge to architects all over the world, so please look forward to monthly publications of these lectures during the coming year.

In this 1998 lecture, Elizabeth Diller speaks at length about the increased presence of computation and “tele-technological” advances, asking “how will architecture define technology?” Watch to hear Diller’s thoughts on electronic news delivery, the blurred lines of art and commerce, her firm’s intervention for CNN’s headquarters, and more.

Don’t miss the other lectures in The Berlage Archive series

14 Architectural Trends That Will Define The Next Decade

Courtesy of MAD

When you think about the future, how do you envision the built environment? According to this article, originally appearing on The Huffington Post as The Architecture of the Future is Far More Spectacular than You Could Imagine, the future is closer than we might think – current projects are already answering the imagined needs and desires of the next generation. From a tower with rotating floors to a park with the ability to cleanse raw sewage, check out fourteen projects believed to embody the architecture of tomorrow, after the break.

The Hudson Yards – New Development, “Smart” Development

’s “Culture Shed” is awaiting approval, but other projects are already underway in the 28 Acre Hudson Yards development. Image Courtesy of and Rockwell Group

The largest private project  City has seen in over 100 years may also be the smartest. In a recent article on Engadget, Joseph Volpe explores the resilience of high-tech ideas such as clean energy and power during Sandy-style storms. With construction on the platform started, the Culture Shed awaiting approval, and Thomas Heatherwick designing a 75-Million dollar art piece and park – the private project is making incredible headway. But with the technology rapidly evolving, how do investors know the technology won’t become obsolete before its even built?

Fast Company Names Top 10 Most Innovative Practices in Architecture

Domino Sugar Factory Master Plan Development /

Fast Company has announced who they believe to be the most innovative practices in architecture for 2014. Topping this list is New York’s SHoP Architects who has gone from “boutique to big commissions in only a few years.” See who made the list after the break and let us know who you believe is the world’s most innovative firms in the comment section below.

Rice Selects Diller Scofidio & Renfro to Design Opera House

Alice Tully Hall Lincoln Center / Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects with FXFOWLE (Click image for more). Image ©

Rice University has commissioned Diller Scofidio & Renfro to transform an existing parking lot between Alice Pratt Brown Hall, the home of Rice’s Shepherd School of Music, and Rice Stadium into a 600-seat opera theater. Charles Renfro, a 1989 Rice graduate and the project’s lead architect, stated: “It feels really natural in a lot of ways to be returning to campus, a place I’ve spent so much time and love so much.” Completion is scheduled for 2018.

Five Fantastic Façades

In case you missed it, we’re re-publishing this popular post for your material pleasure. Enjoy!

To celebrate the recent launch of ArchDaily Materials we’ve brought together five projects with fantastic façades, from Viñoly’s Dolby Regeneration Medicine Building in San Francisco to Holzer Kobler’s PALÄON in Schöningen, Germany. A building’s envelope is often people’s first impression and, in recent years, have been one of the focuses of innovation in the design and construction industry. The projects we’ve collated show a glimpse at what’s possible with façades and wall finishings.

Dear MoMA, Couldn’t the Nouvel Tower Save the American Folk Art Museum?

© Flickr CC User Dan Nguyen

In this Metropolis Magazine post on MoMA‘s planned demolition of the American Folk Art Museum, Karrie Jacobs asks a strangely unasked question: How has the Nouvel Tower – in its day the most controversial of MoMA’s expansion plans - not been brought into the debate? The Jean Nouvel-designed tower was predicated up a circulation plan that, by necessity, ignored the (then occupied) Folk Art Museum entirely. Why is this plan no longer possible? Read the fascinating argument here.

VIDEO: Liz Diller on the High Line, A Mile of Respite in the City that Never Sleeps

Liz Diller, one of the three partners of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, discusses the history of the High Line and the active design decisions which led to its success.

The elevated railroad, which was designed to penetrate city blocks rather than parallel an avenue, saw its last delivery (of frozen turkeys) in 1980. By 1999, a “very strange landscape had formed, with a whole eco system around it,” says Diller. Advocacy for the site’s preservation began with two local residents, and culminated in its reclamation with the multidisciplinary collaboration of city officials and impassioned designers (namely James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and planting designer Piet Oudolf). “The project couldn’t have happened without the right people, the right time and the right administration.”

Today, thirty-feet above the hardscape in the canopy of the New York City jungle, the High Line pauses for a meditative mile. “The high line, if it’s about anything, it’s about nothing, about doing nothing. You can walk and sit, but you can’t be productive,” comments Diller.

MoMA to Preserve Folk Art Facade

© Flickr CC User Dan Nguyen

Though it has been confirmed that Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Museum of Modern Art expansion will result in the demise of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects’ American Folk Art Museum, the New York Times has confirmed that the beloved copper-bronze facade will be preserved.

“We will take the facade down, piece by piece, and we will store it,” Glenn D. Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, said in an interview. “We have made no decision about what happens subsequently, other than the fact that we’ll have it and it will be preserved.”

Diller Scofidio + Renfro Designs Public Plaza, Restaurant for LA’s Broad Museum

© , via Designboom

Alongside news that The Broad’s completion date has been pushed back to 2015, rather than this fall, Diller Scofidio + Renfro has unveiled a new collaboration with landscape architect Walter Hood that will transform the mid-block parcel adjacent to the Grand Avenue museum into a pedestrian-friendly landscaped plaza and restaurant. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the new square will establish an important link to the neighboring school and apartment, as well as the future 2020 Regional Connector subway stop. The 24,000 square foot parcel will be enhanced by100-year-old olive trees transplanted from Northern . Watch a video about the design after the break, and find more information here

OPINION: DS+R Should Have Resigned from the MoMA Commission

© Flickr CC User Dan Nguyen

With all the controversy surrounding Diller Scofidio +Renfro (DSR) and MoMA’s decision to demolish the American Folk Art Museum to make way for expansion, DS+R has increasingly come under fire (indeed, even DS+R’s democratizing move to make the MoMA’s sculpture garden accessible to the public has provoked considerable ire). In the following article, which originally appeared on Metropolis as “Damage Control,” critic and author Martin Pedersen questions: why didn’t DS+R just walk away?

A few weeks ago, in the wake of MoMA’s decision to raze the Folk Art Museum, the estimable Christopher Hawthorne of the Times asked ; why Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DSR) didn’t simply resign the commission, rather than recommend the demolition of a building designed by their (former?) friends. At the time, I was skeptical of the suggestion. But with the onslaught of negative publicity—which will continue up until the demolition of the building and perhaps well beyond—I’m beginning to think Hawthorne was right. And right not just from a moral, ethical and historic perspective.