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Business of Design, Industry Happenings

Community in Design: Maury Riad in Conversation with Charles Renfro


Above, an image of the Museum of Image and Sound in Rio de Janerio. Photo credit: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Renowned architect, Charles Renfro, of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) recently joined Fuigo CEO, Maury Riad, for a conversation on achieving holistic excellence in the design process.  Delving into the theatricality of public architecture in his discussion of New York's Highline and exploring DS+R's community-based approach in their work at the Museum of Image and Sound in Rio de Janerio, Renfro addresses the responsibilities of architects who create public structures.  Perhaps first among those are the ideas of elevating, celebrating and engaging with the communities in which those structures exist. 


 Public design: putting Community on the public stage and New York City's Highline 

With a background in stage design, DS+R’s work is naturally informed by elements of the theater.  Much like a work of theater, Renfro suggests that any public building or structure is in fact on a public stage, with an audience and a setting in a time and place.  Public architecture is about the public experience, about the history of a place and the people who move through it; in that sense it is inherently about the community.  Looking to New York City’s Highline, a public space built from the remains of the original freight railway line that traversed Manhattan’s West Side, Renfro discusses how specifically the structure itself, with its original industrial uses and later storied ties to New York city night life, was an essential part of their proposal for the redevelopment of the space; the theatricality of the piece has as much to do with the experience of actually walking down the Highline, with its sweeping views of Manhattan, as it does with the recognition that the structure is a part of the history of the community itself, of the industry and revelry that intertwine to create the New York experience.  He suggests that theatricality in the architectural sense, is about space over time, and it is part of the work of public structures to illuminate the quotidian aspects of the day to day, highlighting the everyday of life within the surrounding community.  This concept, is perhaps best illustrated via the Highline’s 10th Avenue Square and Overlook, a hanging enclave of steps with a large window that looks out onto the street below.  Here, residents and visitors alike have the opportunity to appreciate the theatricality of the mundane; from this vantage point they can view the persistent, unique and ever-changing taillights and traffic patterns of the taxis that are synonymous with the city itself, watching the movement of space over time.  Here, public architecture works to elevate community.


Community and Design: Leveraging the public stage to build community

As Renfro noted throughout the conversation, his approach to exterior design is tied to both the city or location where the project is being created as well as to the individuals who interact with that space.  Noting projects like the Museum of Image and Sound in Rio de Janerio, where, among other community-based elements of the design, DS+R imagined the museum's top floor to serve as a free public park, and the MOMA, where DS+R created a large glass wall that can be opened directly to 53rd street, Renfro suggests that it is both their goal and duty as architects of public space to imbue their designs with a sense of generosity.  They intend to make their projects do as much as they can for as many people as they can and to leverage their position as architects in the public realm to bring the public to the spaces that they create.  In that sense, DS+R’s projects are essentially, inherently about building community.

See more of Renfro and Riad's conversation #AchievingHolisticExcellence

Learn more about Diller Scofidio + Renfro here


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