MOS brings intensity and wry humor to its work on many scales.

By Anya Kaplan-Seem

When Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample started working together, they made “a lot of furniture-scaled things, a lot of weird experiments, and a lot of carpets,” says Meredith. Without clients, budgets, or a firm, they had only abundant energy and a sense of shared purpose. “We just like making things,” says Meredith. “It’s not that sophisticated, always.”

Photo © Michael Vahrenwald
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The pure intensity of the couple’s enthusiasm for design may not be sophisticated, but since launching MOS in 2003, Meredith and Sample, who are married, have produced work that certainly is. Describing MOS (spelled out m-o-s, or pronounced “moss”) as “rhizomic,” they contrast their firm’s method of unhierarchical and expansive exploration to the “heroic architectural model of the architect versus the world.” As Sample explains, “We work with the system instead of trying to import an entirely new one a priori to the site.” This considered approach to environment, joined with the pair’s sense of humor and desire to experiment with texture and type, has yielded consistently surprising and engaging results.

One early project offers an eloquent example of MOS’s specifics-based approach. In 2004, the firm created a puppet theater in the courtyard of Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center at Harvard for the building’s 40th anniversary. Bobbing beneath the center’s concrete mass like a polycarbonate fish, the theater acts as a telescope: At one end, it narrows to frame a view alternately of the building’s entrance or the puppet stage; at the other, it opens to a view of a single tree. In a playful gesture that also yields a wordplay, MOS covered the exterior of the structure with moss.

As befits a firm with projects of this scale and eccentricity, MOS calls itself “un-corporate.” Yet its chosen epithet is less a reflection of the firm’s projects than of its attitude. “We have fun,” says Meredith. “I mean, design should be fun, otherwise we shouldn’t be doing it.”

As MOS has expanded, its principals have successfully maintained an experimental atmosphere, thanks largely to their academic careers. For Meredith and Sample, who are associate professors at Harvard and Yale, respectively, teaching has been an important enabler, allowing them to pass up what Sample calls “bread and butter” work in preference for projects that pique their interest.

Despite rarely working with the same type twice, Meredith and Sample frequently revisit a core set of themes. For a current project, the Arts Archipelago, Drive-in, and Park in Marfa, Texas, MOS is again reconsidering, through materials and form, a specific vernacular—here, the drive-in. And as with many of its projects, the firm’s focus will be on an object in the landscape—in this case, a combined band shell and theater screen. But whereas in past projects “the objects always had to go into an environment that we really couldn’t touch,” says Meredith, this job will allow MOS, for the first time, to construct “the environment as much as the object.” Seeking as ever to be “critical, intimate, sneaky, clever, and inventive,” Meredith and Sample are bringing their usual blend of careful study and playful experimentation to bear on a new subject: the landscape.

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