On the latest episode of Time Sensitive, a newly launched podcast produced the New York-based “conscious entertainment” media company The Slowdown, co-host Spencer Bailey interviews architect Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro in a blockbuster-length conversation. Diller talks with Bailey about designing everything from the High Line to The Shed to the upcoming expansion of MoMA, and also delves deeper into her past, revealing how it was her mother’s idea for her “go into architecture, and if not architecture, then dentistry.” But upon getting into the Cooper Union and studying with professors like Peter Eisenman and John Hejduk, Diller’s path was clear—for the most part, anyway; it’s necessary to listen to the full episode to see why her journey to where she is today was indeed unconventional and roundabout.
Other highlights from the episode include:
On architectonics: “While I was at Cooper Union, I decided to take this class called ‘Architectonics’ in the architecture school, mostly because I didn’t know what it meant and I thought that was intriguing. By the way, to this day I still don’t know what it means.”
On graduating with an architecture degree: “As far as [my parents] knew, I was graduating with a degree in art. They thought was going to be totally useless. And when they came to graduation, they saw me pick up a degree in architecture. They were thrilled. But I warned them: ‘I’m not really going to be an architect, it’s just something I studied.'”
On the High Line: “All of a sudden, the High Line was marketable, and was a real park that started to create this desire to look at it. All of these new glassy buildings started to shoot up like blades of glass, and there was what I think of as a phototropic effect, like sunflowers following the sun.”
On New York City: “New York is ultimately the place where I live. I want to go to Lincoln Center to hear a concert. I’m going to want to go to The Shed to see an installation, or to MoMA to see an exhibition or hear a lecture, or go to the High Line to take a walk. It’s really terrifying to think that, my god, the whole city’s a punch list.”
I. Film Forum (1:49-13:35)
Diller explains how her interest in movies came out of early engagement in photography and sculpture, and ultimately led to her studying architecture at the Cooper Union, and, in a not-so-straightforward way, to her later becoming a practicing architect.
II. Slow Response (13:35 -19:49)
The architect thinks back to one of the firm’s earliest projects, Slow House (1992), a cornucopia-shaped house that explored the mediated experience in the truest sense. To be located on Long Island, its models and drawings were widely published (they are now in the collections of major museums, including MoMA), but the house itself stalled and was never completed.
III. New York State of Mind (19:49-25:45)
Diller recalls how her parents left Łódź, Poland, in her early years, moving to New York City, where she grew up in the Bronx and Inwood, and ultimately in the West Village, where she still lives today.
IV. Love at First Site (25:45-36:47)
After discussing her time as a student at Cooper Union, where she studied with the likes of John Hejduk and Peter Eisenman, Diller explains how she formed a life-and-work partnership with Ric Scofidio. She also mentions some of the firm’s early work, including “Traffic,” a project involving traffic cones inventively placed around Columbus Circle in Manhattan.
V. Diller Scofidio + Rockwell (36:47-56:06)
Diller talks about a viewing platform at the World Trade Center that the firm completed with fellow architect and designer David Rockwell in the months after 9/11. She also talks about how Rockwell and DS+R recently collaborated on The Shed, a new cultural center at Hudson Yards, detailing how the architecture actually came before the institution itself.
VI. Line of Influence (56:06-1:05:54)
The two look at how the High Line, located just outside The Slowdown’s New York headquarters, has helped transform not just a section of a city but has also been a big impetus for architects and designers rethinking other cities and parks around the world.
VII. MoMA Momentum (1:05:54-1:19:17)
The conversation finishes with Diller explaining her thoughts behind the design of the controversial Museum of Modern Art expansion, which will open this fall, and acknowledging how, without the culturally minded Bloomberg administration, DS+R very likely would not have had so much success in its home city.
Time Sensitive features candid, revealing portraits of curious and courageous people in business, the arts, and beyond who have a distinct perspective on time. Each week co-hosts Spencer Bailey and Andrew Zuckerman respectively interview a leading mind who has made a profound impact in their field, contributed to the larger conversation, and is concerned with the planet we all share.
Other recent episodes include Bjarke Ingels, artist Teresita Fernández, and graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister. To stay up to date, subscribe to their weekly newsletter or follow them on Instagram at @slowdown.tv.