The Design Biennial Boston recognizes emerging architects, landscape architects, and designers who have created inspiring and innovative practices in New England. Established in 2008, the juried awards program commissions a series of small-scale installations, fosters a rising generation of talented practitioners, engages the public with imaginative ideas, and enriches the city's public realm through installations and related programming. The 2017 Design Biennial Boston is sponsored by Autodesk BUILD Space, the Boston Art Commission, the Boston Society of Architects/AIA, the BSA Foundation, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, over,under/pinkcomma gallery, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy.
Most architecture is made out of planes. Plywood, sheetrock, glass. This one is different. It’s a solid made out of lines. It races from the first dimension to the third without stopping to catch its breath. An array of triangular columns form a square plan with a circular void cut out—an architectural primitive in every sense of the word.
The devil is in the details. The grid appears normal, but falls in a diagonal pattern that creates a dialogue between triangle and square. The circular void forces slight deviations in the pattern; the square talks to the circle. This geometric game of telephone is played out with knotty cedar posts and an aluminum mesh veil. The experience is that of an abstract, translucent orchard surrounding a clearing where people can gather.
Ultramoderne (established 2014) is a Providence-based architecture and design firm led by Aaron Forrest and Yasmin Vobis. The office creates architecture and public spaces that are at once modern, playful, and generous, with an experimental approach that leads to conceptually rigorous and well-executed designs.
Blue Marble Circus
Blue Marble Circus is a monument to industrial humanity’s plastic footprint, which—although at a planetary scale—remains outside our geographical imagination. The installation appropriates Rome’s ancient Pantheon, known for its spherical “architecture of the cosmos,” to take aim at the dissonance between our individual worries and the vast environmental transformations the Earth is undergoing.
The geodesic sphere echoes “Blue Marble,” the iconic symbol of the environmental movement. All white inside, its plastic material expression invites another imagination now that greenhouse gases and greenhouse agriculture are at the forefront of planetary issues. The blue shrink-wrapped globe is also a camera obscura, an optical device that projects site-specific views of the surroundings into the chamber. The greenhouse miniature of the world is hence an architectural invitation to re-learn, like Atlas, how to carry the world—and all there is above it—on our shoulders.
Design Earth (established 2010) is a design and research practice led by Rania Ghosn and El Hadi Jazairy. The office examines and speculates on the geographies of technological systems, such as those of energy, trash, and water. Their publications include the recent book Geographies of Trash.
Another Axon uses the conventions of an architectural axonometric drawing to make three-dimensional space with an ideal view of the installation seen from the top level of the adjacent parking garage. Another Axon is composed of minimal art objects and a stand of twelve trees, all of which rely on contemporary reproduction strategies. The art sculptures are lifted from an open source 3D warehouse and range from Donald Judd’s Untitled, 1961 to Carl Andre’s Slope, 1968 while the artificial trees are constructed by carefully tracing other tree drawings from a landscape catalogue.
The selection of materials for Another Axon reinforces the constructed axon view but also places emphasis on the ordinary. Two traditional exterior building materials used ubiquitously across the United States—vinyl siding and EIFS (a synthetic stucco)—are playfully distorted through orientation and color.
Jennifer Bonner is the director of MALL (established 2009), which stands for Mass Architectural Loopty Loops or Maximum Arches with Limited Liability—an acronym with built-in flexibility. With interest in defining “ordinary architecture,” the firm’s work engages the conventional by amplifying color, challenges traditional materials, and playfully reimagines architecture in the field.
Ways of Wood
Resembling images of logs floated from forests to sawmills, Ways of Wood aims to create a link with North American landscapes of industrial extraction. The nine logs gradually transform across their length into contemporary interpretations of these raw natural materials, here shaped via computer numerical control (CNC) milling. Ways of Wood explicitly visualizes the connection between contemporary design concerns and the history of material sourcing. Counteracting the assumption that wood is a generic and uniform material, the installation brings together diverse regional species, supporting their specific characteristics and collective ecological diversity.
Wood is one of many material flows necessary to sustain urban life. Typically black-boxed and commodified, the material is often detached from any connection to the landscapes, processes, and people fundamental to its genesis. Ways of Wood uses locally sourced wood to create a public space for sitting or socializing, one that reassembles the flows between landscapes of extraction and the experience of the city today, between vernacular material sources and advanced digital design.
Margen-Lab (established in 2003) is a practice directed by Daniel Ibañez that explores new territories for architecture, urbanism, and design. The firm’s work uses digital fabrication technologies to produce non-standard forms of pre-fabrication, integrates environmental and thermodynamic conditions into design, and examines territorial interdependencies in relation to material culture.