Prepare to get the song “Windy” stuck in your head. According to HWKN principal Mark Kushner, that 1967 bit of bubblegum was the inspiration for giving the name “Wendy” to his firm’s installation at the New York contemporary art space P.S.1. Part architectural experiment and part well-branded cartoon character, the giant blue sea urchin straddles a wall on one side of the courtyard at the Museum of Modern Art-affiliated former school building in Queens. Stretched across an open armature supported by a cube of scaffolding, its nylon spines have been treated with a solution of titanium nanoparticles, which, according to the firm, will skim pollutants out of the air. “It takes nitrogen dioxide, the stuff that comes out of tailpipes, turns it into a neutral compound, and then rainwater deposits it down to the ground,” said Kushner at an opening reception for the project. “We’ll take the equivalent of 260 off the cars off of the road this summer.”
Photo by Jenna M. McKnight
Wendy will also have more visible effect on the climate in P.S.1’s courtyard. The blue creature houses several fans inside her spines to cool off visitors to the museum’s Warm-Up series of events, outdoor dance parties that take place in the courtyard every Saturday from July 7 through September 8. They get help from a series of pools, a continuous spray of mist, and periodic bursts of water that shoot from one of her spines.
New York-based HWKN’s proposal for Wendy won the MoMA’s annual Young Architects Program competition to design a temporary installation for the courtyard on a short timeline and a $75,000 budget. She opens to the public on July 1 and remains on view through September 8.
Wendy represents a return to form for the program. Recent winners have ranged from WORK Architecture’s urban agricultural experiment, Public Farm 1, to MOS Architects’ primal tents made from what resembled snuffleupagus pelts—titled Afterparty, they were a bit of a downer. Big and colorful, Wendy is closer in spirit to early installations in the program’s 12-year history by SHoP and Xefirotarch, which were lighter on concept and heavier on summer party space. MoMA’s chief design curator Barry Bergdoll called Wendy a “miraculous blue apparition” at the opening, and she is no doubt a strange sight for subway commuters on an elevated stretch of the nearby 7 line. “She literally leaps over the walls of P.S.1,” says Kushner.
Even as her spiky form imperceptibly cleaned the air at a Thursday night opening, some guests questioned her ecological bona fides, pointing to her grid-powered fans, use of fresh city water, and PVC skeleton. But visitors also had fun referring to her as “her” rather than “it”—proving that Wendy has a good chance of becoming a well-known character in New York this summer. “We want to design beautiful projects,” says HWKN’s other partner Matthias Hollwich. “But we also want to infuse them with personality.” On that front, the installation has succeeded. Wendy is eye catching, a little ridiculous, and already looks fun to hang out with as she looms over P.S.1.