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July 7, 2010
by Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP
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“Pole Dance” at P.S. 1 by SO-IL.

Jessica Sheridan

There’s nothing like a heat wave to make me want to take a stroll in the sand, kick around beach balls, and relax in a hammock. Luckily, the P.S. 1 courtyard has it all. This year’s “Pole Dance,” SO-IL’s winning entry to the annual MoMA/MoMA P.S.1 Young Architects Program, is an interactive installation that is sure to tap into your nostalgia and make you feel like a kid again.

There is a 16-foot-by-16-foot grid of 30-foot-high PVC poles. Suspended among the poles are bungee cords and a netting canopy. Beach balls float on top of the canopy and, when one shakes the poles, they sometimes drop through openings. At three locations, the openings are lined with tubing that creates a cool mist of water. Hammocks are suspended in the corners. Foam extrusions act as benches dispersed through the space, and there is a pool of water to wade in at the center. In one of the smaller courtyards to the side, designated poles create sounds as visitors interact with them (either in person or via iPhone app). The netting creates intricate shadows against the sparse concrete walls. And water-stained gravel circles break up the otherwise monotonous ground.

The renderings did not do this project justice. I was suspicious about whether people would actually want to engage with this “participatory environment,” but once I got there it was irresistible not to shake the poles or toss around a beach ball. Everyone else in the courtyard felt the same way.

The one drawback to “Pole Dance” is the lack of sustainable materials used in its construction. Perhaps my mind is too focused on the catastrophe in the Gulf Coast these days, but with PVC piping and plastic beach balls, as much as I tried to escape the reality beyond the walls, I found myself thinking of the amount of oil it took to produce the playful installation. My mind hearkened back to a time when I didn’t worry about the environment, but I’m not convinced that is a good thing. And, if that is the point of the project, it did not fully succeed. The website claims that the components will be re=purposed after the installation closes, so perhaps sustainability was taken into account, even if it is not elaborated upon.

Overall, the project does meet its objective. States the website: “We bounce about, footloose, on a network of intersections and knots.”

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