Living Pavilion Dispatch #6: Construction Completion

more pics here

I am proud, joyful, and relieved to report that the Figment Living Pavilion stands complete a day ahead of schedule. On a drizzly Wednesday morning, after weeks of reported thunderstorms but gorgeous weather, screws were tightened and foundation ditches filled to secure our dream of building architecture in NYC’s best park.

Figment has been an amazing supporter of this project. I’m waiting with anticipation to see this beautiful structure filled with arts programming and impromptu gathering come the debut of Figment 2010 on Friday–note the wealth of scheduled performances on the Pavilion Stage, from belly and ballroom dancing to improv musical comedy and interactive folktale theater. The participatory arts scene has been a great source of inspiration for me over the past few years, as has the architecture and design community. It means a lot that the we were able to merge the glorious social utopia of the glittering costumed free-for-all with a professional, measured, and intellectual view toward larger scale design thinking and experiments in sustainability. The ultimate test of our health as a society is how we fulfill ourselves as individuals in the context of shared space and resources. Participatory architecture has produced an icon to this belief that will literally grow into its own as plantings germinate and people, through use, imbue their own meanings.

A special thank you at this moment to David Koren and Jessica Sheridan who have worked behind the scenes with skill and aplomb to make this possible; to our very patient and helpful representatives from the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation; to the pavilion’s brilliant and committed architects Behrang Behin and Ann Ha; to the amazing Figment production team; and to the 60+ volunteers (final count TK) who have made this possible, including those in the home stretch since my last blog post, Berardo Matalucci, Rusty Brinkman, Nic Warner, Lydia Orsy, Max Akulin, Kayla Soo-Youn Kim, Baraket Kezwer, Malgorzata Danilczuk-Danilewicz, Breta Bishop, Damir Pozerac, Beatriz Ortiz, and Tara Mrowka.

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Living Pavilion Dispatch #5: It Stands!

about 1/3 of the pavilion is built
more pics here

This weekend the Living Pavilion became a proto-building and not just an intense pile of planted milk crates. Ultimately it will have 23 ribs, be 30 ft long, and undulate between 9 and 12 feet tall. The deadline is looming but progress seems to be on track. Figment is placing a stage inside where dance performances are scheduled for the first day of the festival this Friday.

By the last ferry on Sunday we were almost 1/3 of the way there with eight ribs up. Each arc sandwiches a row of milk crates that are bolted in. Our structural engineer Yunlu did all the math and was confident that the design would be sound, but I think until we got to this point we were all a little nervous. Sunday was the day when all the structural engineers came out to play with us.

The crates form a pixelated pattern that switch between planted modules and empty skylight boxes. The design has changed since the original proposal, but its amazing how nicely the texture and gestures match the renderings, and hanging plants are beautiful when they blow in the breeze. Part of the original call for entries asked for a structure that would provide shelter. The crate matrix was only partially protective when a brief thunderstorm hit, but proves cool and shady in the hot sun. Spatially the pavilion feels very nice to be inside. It’s already large enough to stretch out and walk around in, and feels both familiar with its naturalistic elements and intriguing by the plants’ unusual direction. One volunteer felt like she was in a wedding chapel.

A huge crew came out to support us this weekend. Thank you volunteers: Vanesa Alicia, Jessica Sheridan, David & Shirley Menokovich, Amanda Rivera, Tes Rivera, Eve Dilworth, Zohn Rosen, Jamie Kiburz, Dillon Font, Nick Dellano, Margaret Murray, Martina Gawrych, Yunlu Shen, Steve Koller, Nick Hohn, Shamil Lallani, Matthew Moser, Andy Beck, Nicholas Warner, Misael Rojas & Natalie, Kayla Soo-Youn Kim, Nina Mahjoub, Paul Laroque, Lourdes Saladino, Rebecca Jones, Shinjinee Pathak, Irmak Turan, and Scott Miller.

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Living Pavilion Dispatch #4: A New Location Saves the Water Problem

The Living Pavilion has moved to the Parade Grounds, solving our water problems but confusing lost volunteers and vexing Figment’s mapping progress! It’s too bad that we couldn’t make it work in the City of Dreams, but the new location is much healthier for the plants that will spend half the day in the shade and the other half shading you. Our long hose is now comfortably hooked up to a spigot rather than requiring a connection to a drip gushing tapped fire hydrant. We’ve learned a few things about resources and problem solving on this one, and internalized the fact that understanding the local context is truly key to designing anything sustainable.

We’re done planting and hope you’ll join us this weekend for the beginning of the construction phase. The Island is open to the public and you can drop by any time. The new (even simpler) directions to the site are:

1. Get your ass to the ferry on time, which means a few minutes early. It’s right next door to the north of the Staten Island ferry.

2. After the boat drops you off, turn left. When you’re standing directly in front of the fort with Nolan Park to the left you’ll see a grassy entrance to the Parade Grounds.

3. Go forward onto the grass a little bit and you’ll see us.

A special thank you to all my volunteers this week, on the island, in the shop, and in front of the computer. There is no way we could do this without you: Alexandra Hofgaertner, Malgorzata Danilczuk-Danilewicz, Anya Dayneko, Shayne Smith, Judy Hugentobler, John Toniolo, Paula Wood, Vanessa Paulson, Gabriel Ceycedo, Eve Dilworth, Chris Cummings, Katie Stokien, Keefe Butler, Max Akulin, Christine O’Heron, Rusty Mooooo Brinkman, S. Pearson Smith, Josh Newman, Bareket Kezwer, Tes Rivera, Beatriz Ortiz, Garry Engelbe, Damir Pozderac, Aysha Jalil, Nic Warner, and Berardo Matalucci.

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Living Pavilion Dispatch #3: Premier Planting

These past two days we’ve really gotten down to the business of planting milk crates. The process started in New Jersey and exploded once we got to the Island and everyone put their hands in the dirt. Two days of labor yielded an impressive 215 completed modules. We’ll be in gardening mode for another day or two, and then it will be construction time.

I’m exhausted and the pictures speak for themselves. Thank you so much everyone who volunteered today and yesterday: Kristen Chin, Rusty Moooooo, Christine O’Heron, Carol Crump, Tes Revera, Khalsa Kaur, Cessi Hessler, Michael Zick Doherty, Linda Leith, Paula Wood, John Toriolo, Vanessa Paulson, Tom Klaber, Breta Bishop, Judy Hugentobler, Karen Chubak, Sarah Bray, and Eve Dilworth.

We still need volunteers for the later part of next week, including the weekend, and also the following week. You can get involved by signing up for a shift at

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Living Pavilion Dispatch #2: The Big Move from NJ to GI

Our crew on site: Moishe Friedman, Rusty Mooooooo, 
MaryBeth Burton, Chris Cummings, co-architect Behrang Behin, and 
Tom Klaber (not shown is Jook Leung who helped us earlier on the NJ leg)
more photos here

Today was a triumph. Up until now, 460 milk crates and 2500 potted loriape plants have been sitting in the backyard of the architect’s very patient parents in northern New Jersey. Now they are finally home at the field behind Liggett Hall, where they apparently mark the first building materials to show up on site in the City of Dreams.

It was an adventure and we covered a lot of ground. For half of us, the day started off with trials of truck rental in Brooklyn (as a pedestrian city dweller, somehow I only find myself behind the wheel if a 20+ foot truck is involved), for the other half it was meeting up with strangers at a bus depot in the northern reaches of Manhattan. By the time my group got to NJ, everyone else had already gotten materials organized and ready to be loaded. Despite the fact that there are an enormous amount of pieces, identical cube shaped milk crates are the easiest thing I think any of us have ever had to load onto a truck.

Then off to Governors Island. All the while during the many legs of this trip we were unsure exactly where we’d be able to find water for the plants, as the spiggot we expected turned out to have been turned off without anyone noticing or remembering this past winter. Hence our enormous happiness at being allowed to tap into the fire hydrant, at least temporarily. A long term solution is still in the works. It’s made us all think a lot about water scarcity, harvesting, and conservation. You cannot take for granted that your island will have water, and in fact the water that is on Governors Island is non-potable.

I especially want to thank the crew today for accomplishing such a major leg of this trip. We’re finally starting to see the community come together in action to build this thing, which is necessary for Figment to flourish. We had representatives from Figment, the Emerging New York Architects, Burning Man, and the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology at RPI, some of whom are friends of mine and some I met for the first time today.

If anyone would like to come help next week, please sign up at

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Volunteer Directions to the Pavilion Build Site

This map is no longer accurate. We’ve moved to the Parade Grounds.

1) Get your ass to the ferry on time, which means a few minutes early. It’s right next door to the north of the Staten Island Ferry.

2) After the boat drops you off, turn right. Follow the road as it bends left, veer through a parking lot intoa  big field called Colonel’s Row

3) The build site is located on the other side of a giant arch, behind a building called Liggett Hall

4) The Living Pavilion is in construction on a beautiful field where people with big art projects will be building many impressive things in the weeks leading up to Figment

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Living Pavilion Dispatch #1

Early stages of the Living Pavilion
click here for more photos

Work is underway on the Living Pavilion for the City of Dreams on Governors Island and it is truly inspiring. Plants defy gravity, growing down, exposing a lattice of dirt and roots toward the sky. Rather than ground breaking, it is better described as ground lofting. The structure will be an inversion that confuses inside and out through an articulated tunnel of liriope and fresh air.

A group of volunteers got started planting today. It was a great time to spend in the fresh air with some dirt between our fingers. We can’t do it alone though, another 200 person-hours are needed for planting, then we also need to construct it before June 11th when the Figment participatory arts festival begins. Please be in touch with me if you can help at any point on the schedule.

This is the first structure of its kind at Figment, selected by jury out of 50 entries. I volunteered for this project originally because architecture is such a critically important marker of our culture and values. Organizing this competition was a chance for us to bring another type of design thinking to a festival that is already making loud statements about creativity in the urban condition. Figment prides our individuality while bringing us together as a society in a non-commodified and democratic act.

Within such we could not have asked for a more relevant winning project. Plant walls and green roofs are becoming more and more popular in a world hungry for sustainable solutions to the pressing issues surrounding energy and air quality. The biological paradigm is gaining momentum as an effective means of harnessing energy flows in the built ecology with a push to reclaim nature through technology. The Living Pavilion itself speaks to these issues while creating a public space for us to build and use together.

Now as foreperson for this project I am tasked with getting all of you as excited as I am, or else it’s going to be hard to pull this off. I’d like to give special thanks to our crew today: Misael Rojas, Zal Sayari, and Mr. & Mrs. Behin. And an extra special thanks to our architects Ann Ha and Behrang Behin who are working so hard to realize Figment’s grand inspiration to build an infrastructure worthy of a place called the City of Dreams.

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