This week the Public Summer artist series continues with a project in architecture and sound. Gia Wolff, an architectural designer, will be teaming up with Ethan Eunson-Conn for a piece entitled Poortali. Poortali means Portal in Finnish, it is a reference to the Scandinavian people who settled in Sunset Park in the 1800s. Ethan is a sound artist and filmmaker working both in NYC and Los Angeles. His work includes DJing, sound design projects for larger film productions, along with the production of his own short films. I recently had the opportunity to ask Gia a few questions:
How did you get involved with architecture?
I’ve been involved in architecture ever since I can remember. My maternal grandfather was an architect, and so are my father and his brother. These are just my most immediate relatives who are architects. I guess I can safely say architecture is in my blood. But I think my real involvement with architecture started in Los Angeles, where I grew up. I would spend countless nights cruising just looking at the city. LA is a strange place for architecture – it’s hard to tell what’s real. You can be at the top of a canyon looking at the vast city and think, “Man, there’s so much!” And the next second you’re down the hill on some residential street and realize you’re in a preserved 1950’s film set, but it’s a real street. Vacillating between the real and unreal-real, I know has played a significant role in how I think about architecture.
I understand you are currently working at Pratt Institute, what are your teaching/research interests?
I teach first year undergraduate architecture studio, so it’s less about my own research and more about fundamentals for a first year architecture student. I am interested in performative architecture – how spaces function and how people function in spaces – and try to use that pedagogy as a way to teach fundamentals. For example, one of the big challenges for a young student is to learn scale. I often refer to the body as a measuring device because it instantly gives students perspective and helps them learn the difference between 10 feet and 30 feet, which surprisingly, is not that easy at first.
In addition to teaching at Pratt, I am also a partner in an experimental architecture program called +FARM. We just returned from spending a week at a 300 acre sheep and cattle farm in western New York where we built a movable chicken coop with five architecture students. I’m really fascinated by the stories of architects who used to travel with their clients, not only forging their own personal relationships, but also developing a communal interest in what the project is. Our program is not quite like this, but in a way it takes lessons from what it means to build relationships between the architect, the client, and in our case the student. We hope that this way of working will help to make design less esoteric and instead more immediate, more innate.
What is your approach to architecture, more specifically in terms of what you feel the role of the architect is in the broader social and cultural context?
This is something I am still trying to define, as I don’t think the traditional role of an architect is the same as what it used to be. I don’t think I’m experienced enough to really say what I think that should be, but I am trying to look to other disciplines for influence and forge my own path. I suspect I’ll only really know this answer in retrospect. So for now, perhaps the best answer is to say that I think the architect, in a broad sense, is proactive in any capacity.
Could you share a little bit about the piece you will showing on Sunday?
The buildings in Sunset Park are amazing because of their size, beauty, repetition, and utilitarianism. What excites me most about them is that this is one of the few places left in the city where you can still wonder what they could be. The buildings are quite monolithic, but somehow they seem more fragile, like skeletons. On the one hand, their bones remind us of their history, but they are not bound to their past. Instead, they provide a framework to think about the future. The site of the installation is within a three-sided courtyard between two buildings. The installation attaches to the buildings as if creating a new fourth wall. Hanging off the existing infrastructure, it uses a projector to mimic the repetitive pattern of the building facades onto a swath of fabric. The image of the façade is not static like the real buildings, but over time morphs into potential scenarios displaying future possibilities.
Poortali will be this Sunday (8/21) at Industry City from 4-9pm! There will also be a performance from the artist collective Panoply. All are welcome!