Momentarily Becalmed by Pierre Alexandre de Looz

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Momentarily Becalmed by Pierre Alexandre de Looz

The winning projects for 2016, which are now on view at Parson’s Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at the New School, bracket a world undergoing (big) change in delicate ways, much as this year’s competition theme—”(im)permanence”—holds back the boogieman of instability with a mere parenthesis. Elegant, finely crafted drawings and pristine models treat issues like space junk, rampant real-estate speculation, and remedying the post-industrial, post-colonial environment. There’s also a good showing of simply sure-footed design. As Program Director at the Architectural League, Anne Rieselbach explains, “The theme is geared to elicit different modes of interpretation and envelope a spectrum of work. It leaves the critical interpretation to the entrants.”

Yasmin Vobis and Aaron Forrest of Rhode Island-based Ultramoderne deliver several previously developed projects through drawings and models, including Chicago Horizon and Recess PS1 , both temporary structures of wood and chain-link fencing. Spekulathius , a wry comment on speculative real-estate, is a solid timber, non-inhabitable, high-rise notched by open observatory decks; it embodies the paradoxical idea of parking capital in perishable material. Ultramoderne resorts to elementary (as it were imperishable) mathematical forms to counterbalance the temporality of the use, value, or meaning of their designs, a strategy that Montreal-based duo Pelletier de Fontenay treat even more radically in their entry, Invariants .

Their display is comprised of how-to booklets and whitewashed models that document nine, masterfully whimsical yet indeterminate structures all derived from step-by-step constructions of rudimentary geometry.

Sweet by comparison and no less witty, the work of Neyran Turan and Mete Sonmez of San Francisco-based Nemestudio casts recent, mostly speculative projects into an imaginary landscape. Reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City Plan , nine delightful axonometric drawings show imagined buildings in a pastel colored edge-city, peopled by figures posed like Manet’s Dejeuner sur L’Herbe or Wyeth’s Christina’s World . The designs deal with issues like resource depletion, urban agriculture, and public space. The plaster-coated models of mausoleum-like building forms share an interest in primitive geometry as do almost all the winning entries, but an explicit interest in storytelling also manifests here—together the drawings read like a narrative tapestry.

This Year’s League Prize demonstrates, in this and other instances, that storytelling can be as enticing a medium as any. Rania Ghosn and El Hadi Jazairy of Design Earth present Neck of the Moon , which imagines the construction of a “cyborg moon,” a massive prismatic space station built of reclaimed satellite debris and tethered to the Andean Cotopaxi volcano by a stratospheric elevator. Ironically low-fi digital drawings, an animation, and a booklet of essays present the New Age fantasy (it won the Jacques Rougiere Prize in 2015). Appealing for it’s quirky graphics and provocative narrative, Neck of the Moon could be part of the emerging field of design futures.