Queens has been kind to the architects at SO-IL. The small Brooklyn-based firm is run by husband and wife Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu (the name stands for Solid Objective-Idenburg Liu, though any Beastie Boys referents are not lost on them).
Their first major success, not counting Mr. Idenburg’s time designing the New Museum for Japanese firm Sanaa, was P.S. 1’s Pole Dance pavilion two summers ago, arguably the best installation in the Young Architecture Program’s dozen years. This spring, another pavilion, this one for the Frieze Art Fair, will open on Randall’s Island (yes, technically part of Manhattan, but it certainly feels more like Queens with its big, open spaces and proximity to Astoria). And now, in their most ephemeral and ambitious effort yet, SO-IL is—very quietly—taking over Jackson Heights with the Guggenheim for four weekends starting tomorrow.
Welcome to Transhistoria, the latest installment in the Guggenheim’s stillspotting program.
“How can we look at cities without constantly begin accosted by them,” said David van der Leer, an assistant curator for architecture at the Guggenheim. “New Yorkers are constantly tuned in to their Blackberries and iPhones, running from place to place—and I’m one of the worst offenders. When I first got here from the Netherlands, I couldn’t believe it, and now here I am. We want to create a space where people can actually stop and reflect on the city.”
Part design, part installation, part performance art, stillspotting is meant, like any good architecture, to evoke a new and different sense of place and space, to provoke a different understanding of the city than one might normally experience just wandering the streets. In an email last week from Seoul, where Mr. Idenburg and his wife inaugurated their first ground up building, the Kukje Art Center, he said it was the opportunity to “pause,” to “allow for contemplation and possible reorientation” that was so appealing about joining the project.
“It is something people are too busy to think about,“ Mr. Idenburg said of the opportunity for quiet contemplation in the manic city. “Also, typically, people leave the city for such pause. By positioning it as an idea that can exist within the city, the project might influence how people move through and inhabit New York”
Such is the mission of stillspotting, to create space for quietude within the hustle and bustle of New York. A two-year project led my Mr. van der Leer, an assistant curator for architecture, it takes the city as its canvas, rather than the museum, an apt location given the goals of the project.
“We really wanted to get outside the Upper East Side, where we do so much, and explore the full capacity of the city,” Mr. van der Leer said. “New York has so much to offer, and there really is no better place to explore it than on the streets of the five boroughs.”
The project will visit all five, with a different designer or artist at the helm. The first was the creation of mock mental institution in downtown Brooklyn last June. Called Sanitorium, it was led by artist Pedro Reyes, whom Mr. van der Leer notes is highly concerned with the creation of architectural spaces. The idea was to highlight New Yorker’s obsession with therapy as a means to cope with the hurly burly of the city.
The next was a series of installations in Lower Manhattan pegged to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The Nordic-American architecture firm Snøhetta partnered with composer Arvo Pärt to transform small sites at the Woolworth Building, the Battery, Governors Island and inside 7 World Trade Center. A few giant white weather balloons and eerie recordings by Mr. Pärt provide a haunting reminder of tragic events downtown—ghosts among us—but also the often ignored role hearing plays in our experience of the urban fabric.