The Young Architects Program is a prestigious international competition organised by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and MoMA PS1. stARTT, an Italian firm, won the first international edition with its relaxing, recyclable pavilion installed at the MAXXI museum in Rome.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York and MoMa PS1, an art institution dedicated to contemporary art, have led the Young Architects Program (YAP) since 1998 to “offer emerging architectural talent the opportunity to design and present innovative projects.” Each year’s winners are challenged to develop innovative designs for temporary outdoor installations at MoMA and other affiliated institutions, including museums in Istanbul, Korea and Santiago de Chile.
In 2011, for the first international edition of YAP, MoMa and MoMA PS1 partnered with the National Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome, popularly known as MAXXI. This elegant Zaha Hadid designed museum is the first Italian national institution devoted to “cultural creativity” and has two museums, one each for art and architecture.
The jury for YAP consists of deans of architecture schools and editors of architectural publications. They nominate around thirty firms of students, recent architectural graduates and established architects doing experimental projects who showcase their portfolio to the panel after which five finalists are invited to make detailed proposals, based on which a winner is announced.
Italian firm stARTT won the first international edition of YAP in 2011. stARTT is an acronym of studio di architettura e trasformazioniterritoriali – an office for architecture and territory transformations.
Their name reveals their professional approach – creating relationships between architecture and territory, conceiving the project as part of a larger transformation, which affects social and economic fabrics, urban textures and the image of landscape. The stARTT design team included Simone Capra, Claudio Castaldo with Francesco Colangeli, Andrea Valentini and Massimo Briziarelli (green technologies consultant).
Their Pavilion was designed around the MAXXI museum and was installed in the courtyard outside. The installation was called Whatami and the design featured a series of mini hills around the MAXXI plaza with pools of water in between. The hills double up as a public garden with a dash of colour provided by clusters of funnel shaped canopies representing flowers. The flowers have other purposes besides being pretty – “they provide light, shadow, water and sound.”
I was curious about how the inspiration for the design came about. “We were looking for a dreamlike space to underline the passage from the back access of the museum to the great Mancini square. We were inspired by the green fields at the base of the Roman walls, which in summer are covered by red poppies. We decided to propose an out of scale green field with big flowers giving light in the night and shadows during the day,” explains Dario Scaravelli of stARTT.
Whatami was conceived as a temporary public space, an “artificially natural garden in a naturally artificial context”. The philosophy behind the design hinted at the relationship between society, city and nature. The design team pondered over the “recovery of landscape, especially of the secondarily-used soils of the European metropolises.”
One of the stipulations of the competition was that the design had to be sustainable and recycled. The materials proposed for the installation involved a two-fold recycling process – the supplying of the materials for the construction (straw, geo-textile, plastic) and the dismantling of the “hill” (turf, lighting).
The large island was made of pressed hay and soil which was then covered with natural grass. The smaller islands were made of expanded polystyrene, “a material that is both recycled and further recyclable”. The large red flowers provided visitors with shadow by day and light at night, allowing the installation to be used as a venue for summer concerts and other outdoor events.
And here’s the interesting part. At the end of the season, all the bits and bobs would be recycled and returned to their place of origin wherever possible. “All the land, the grass and the straw became compost for urban gardens for an ambientalist association in Rome,” adds Dario.
He continues, “The lamps are part of the Museum collection; some of them are now in Shenzhen. The iron elements have been dismantled and recycled.”
The stARTT installation is a lovely example of how public art can be showcased and celebrated with minimal damage to the surrounding environment. It is a challenge, and one that the Young Architects Program is promoting to great success, as is evident by their long list of innovative designs.
Text By Chryselle D’Silva Dias
Photographs Courtesy stARTT and Cesar Querci