SUPERFRONT is a venue for architectural experimentation. Three and a half years ago, Mitch McEwen — a curator, urban designer and unlicensed architect — walked by a dilapidated storefront in Bed-Stuy in the shadow of the elevated LIRR tracks, and went about applying her passion and energy into transforming it into a gallery and project space devoted to “promoting architecture for an interdisciplinary world.” SUPERFRONT has since exploded, hosting exhibitions in the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles and making its presence felt throughout the world through provocative podcasts, events, and print-on-demand publications. Listen to Mitch describe some of the ideas that underpin SUPERFRONT, and see some glimpses of the space in action — as a venue for performances and charrettes, as a space for openings and events, as a construction site — in the video below:
In all of its various activities, SUPERFRONT aims to subvert the traditional order of operations in architectural practice and discourse. For example, when the time came to open up the backyard as a community resource, Mitch opted not to stage a traditional architectural competition, in which designers work on spec in response to a pre-defined brief. Rather, SUPERFRONT first put out a call to community groups for program ideas that would support their missions, asking how each group might like to use the 1,000 square foot outdoor space for a public activity. Then the gallery partnered with Design in 5, the Architectural League’s group for designers five years or less out of school, to organize a Sketch120 charrette, in which each team of volunteer designers was assigned one of the briefs at random and had two hours to come up with a scheme. The winning design scheme, by a group called KIT, involves an canopy made of hula hoops to house and shade the activities of the New York City Explorers Carnival, a Brooklyn-based family enrichment center. This Saturday from 6 to 9pm, check out the public unveiling of the installation and the simultaneous opening of SUPERFRONT’s latest exhibition: Artists who Play Well with Architects. There will be live music and beverages.
As with all things SUPERFRONT, the installation in the backyard is more than meets the eye. The appropriateness of the design of the canopy to its specific, intended use — to frame a safe, playful and multi-generational event space — is just part of the project’s broader objective: to reimagine the relationship between the architect and the public in the creation of public space, whether temporary, permanent or somewhere in-between. The theme underlying the charrette was “Temporary Publics.” Here’s how SUPERFRONT defines that theme:
Mismanaged crises of the past few years (from the failure of physical infrastructure to the catastrophes of bond markets) have complicated our notion of the architectural relationship between temporality and typology. For example, temporary FEMA trailers in New Orleans remain occupied as primary homes five years later, or luxury projects that became icons before they were even constructed remain stalled as holes in a sidewalk.
Sketch 120: “Sketch Cypher — Temporary Publics” hosted by SUPERFRONT and Design in 5, a group of the Architectural League, invites you to reconsider the possibilities of public architecture in this moment of temporal-typological crisis. What if the industry never returns to normal, if real estate financing never materializes, and all we had to work with, as architects, were our own ideas, a discarded space, and a nebulous public?
What if temporary were forever? The goal is to design a public space with these precepts.
SUPERFRONT itself embodies these precepts. The collaborations, exhibitions and events it organizes plumb the depth and breadth of subject matter that experiments in architecture currently confront. And it situates each of these experiments in the cultural context of the space’s location in Bed-Stuy and in the interdisciplinary context of contemporary practice.
The jury who selected the winning scheme consisted of DJ /rupture, nArchitects and Slade Architecture. The design team, KIT, is comprised of Lauren Page, Phil Kuehne, Justin Foster and Read Langworthy. New York City Explorers (NYCE) is a Brooklyn-based family enrichment center created by Kisha Edwards-Gandsy & Keyanna Murrill that provides classes, camps, childcare, two indoor play spaces, and party planning for families throughout NYC. The NYCE Carnival at SUPERFRONT aims to provide safe, carnival style atmosphere complete with scheduled films, games, contests, healthy food vendor sampling, and creative family programming.
PUBLIC SUMMER at SUPERFRONT Team:
SUPERFRONT Project Team: Nicole McGlinn, Project Manager; Mitch McEwen, Executive Director; Lily Fuks, Project Intern; Melissa Frost, Gallery Intern; Sarah Millsaps, Engineering Consultant;
Designers, KIT: Lauren Page, Phil Kuehne, Justin Foster, Read Langworthy
NY City Explorers: Kisha Edwards-Gandsy And Keyanna Murrill, Co-Owners
Design and Construction Volunteers: Jack Bader, Rodrigo Balarezo, Alex Baumel, Cristina Greavu, Elizabeth MacWillie, Scott Miller, Viren Patel, Shinjinee Pathak, Herbert Ramirez, Rian Rooney, Aviva Rubin, William Serbin, Irmak Turan
Installation photograph by Dave Rittinger. See more of his photos of PUBLIC SUMMER at SUPERFRONT on Flickr.
MITCH MCEWEN is the Director and Founder of Superfront. She is Principal of A. Conglomerate and a recipient of the The New York State Council on the Arts 2010 Independent Projects awards for Architecture, Planning and Design. The Akademie Schloss Solitude has granted her a residency fellowship in architecture for 2012-2013. Her architectural work has been published in Architectural Record and the New York Times, and her writing in African-American studies has been published in Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society (IRAAS, Columbia University, 2007, 2009). Since founding SUPERFRONT in January 2008, she has curated more than fifteen exhibits and published 4 exhibition catalogues. In 2006, she was invited to join the adjunct faculty of Columbia GSAPP as Adjunct Assistant Professor to create a new cross-disciplinary course for urban planners and urban designers. She holds an M.Arch from Columbia GSAPP and A.B. from Harvard.