The Shed

New York City undertook the creation of a new space for artists. Flexible enough for the needs of transformational artists, alive enough to inhale and exhale with the performers it houses, able to hold space for myriad art forms — a building that includes inspiration as one of the ways it serves its community. On April 5, 2019, The Shed was born. Find out how here on ALL ARTS Docs.

AIRED: May 06, 2020 | 0:24:50




I really believe that The Shed is a new type of space,

both conceptually and physically.

Here at The Shed, something can happen

which cannot happen as well.

It's a utility. It has to be useful,

useful for the art world,

useful for the music world,

useful for the architecture world,

and, of course, useful for the visitors

who can experience here the coming together,

you know, of the different art form.

It's about creating a place that could commission artists

from all walks of life to make new work.

Levin: Artists get inspired by the spaces that they're in,

and audiences respond to something that's

either particularly grand or particularly challenging.

So you can't just have generic space

and expect to have a really vivid, emotionally,

imaginatively, responsive experience.


We felt very, very strongly that flexibility

and making a building of architectural distinction

was possible.


Fleming: First of all, it's extraordinary architecture.

It's a beautiful space. It's a beautiful sight.

And the fact that it has this ability

to kind of change and morph into different types of space

will be fascinating to witness.

See how it becomes part of the fabric of our lives.


So back in 2005, the city of New York

wanted to figure out how to activate the Far West Side,

which, at the time, was taken up by blocks

and blocks of storage for subway cars.

So we embarked on a huge plan to transform the entire area.

Part of that plan was to extend the subway into the area,

the number seven line.

Part of it was to create parks

and other infrastructure for a mixed-use downtown

that was about the size of downtown Minneapolis.

The city changed the zoning in Hudson Yards,

which enabled the economics to work out per building on top,

making that deck on top of the active train yard.

And in the center of it,

we thought that it was really important

to actually place a cultural institution.

Because culture is something that has been proven time

and time again to generate neighborhood identity

and to just be a great convening space

for all different kinds of people in the city of New York.

The city of New York put out an RFP

for some kind of cultural facility

that would be in Hudson Yards,

and there was a very specific footprint

that was right along The High Line,

which is a project that we spent many years on.

Doctoroff: We didn't want it to be like anything else in New York,

which is hard because there's 1,200 cultural institutions

in New York,

and secondly, we knew that we wanted it to play a role

in keeping New York on the leading edge

culturally in the world.

Culture is a really important part of the way New York

competes with other cities around the world.

People see and love about New York.

If we're creating a new edge of New York on the West Side,

we wanted culture to actually lead it.

A couple of ideas kept coming up.

One of them was that the city didn't have a lot of big,

truly flexible space

that could take all different kinds of cultural production.

And there were kind of two pieces to it --

One is that the definition of culture has kept growing.

It sounds funny now, but, you know, 30 years ago,

film wasn't really considered a cultural discipline.

And the second piece is that artists themselves

have been really anxious to collaborate in fuller,

deeper ways for a long period of time.

That pushes against some of the disciplinary boundaries

that started getting inscribed, certainly in U.S. culture.

Doctoroff: And what they really wanted was space

and an institution programmatically

that were adaptable or flexible enough

to accommodate changes in our -- as they were occurring

and were likely to occur in the future.

It's really impossible to predict the future.

And the best thing we could do

is imagine a new form of flexibility,

a building that could be so transformative,

that could accommodate work in all disciplines,

at all scales, indoors and outdoors,

and it would be so flexible

that it could even change its footprint.

It could get large and small.

And the idea was to fuse the visual arts,

the performing arts, and all cultural disciplines

under one roof.

We were already imagining large-scale installations,

large-scale performances that really needed

a tremendous amount of height.

We were imagining sort of complex theater works

that could be on multi-levels,

that could be also indoors and outdoors

with a moving building as part of its choreography.

We also imagined the stack of more conventional spaces,

large footprints, column free,

in the fixed building that could take lots

of different programing as well.

Visual arts, performing arts --

anything that you could throw at it.

Obrist: I, of course, immediately

thought of Cedric Price,

and the theater director Joan Littlewood,

she really wanted to bring the street into the theater

and open, you know, the inside of the outside.

And so Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price

imagined an institution called the Fun Palace,

and that was actually meant to happen

in the early '60s in London.

And it was very much his idea of architecture as infrastructure.

They wanted to plug in all functions.

It would be very possible to have opera, to have theater,

to have music, to have concerts, to have art exhibitions,

but also to have a lot of participatory DIY projects,

and that project remained unrealized.

Diller: There was an idea around a fixed building

and a movable outer shell.

That shell could deploy

and double the footprint of the fixed building.

It was that idea where we first started to think

about new notions of sustainability.

Why would you need to heat

and cool a big space if you didn't need it?

And if you didn't need it, you could nest it

and open up a big public open space.

And so this variety of different types of cultural uses

sort of evolved around that footprint,

which was at first quite limited.

And out of that concept of maximum flexibility

was born The Shed.

And one of the first things we decided to do

was that we were ready to bring on an artistic director

to think about programing.


The Shed is a place where artists can dream

and imagine new ideas and new work.


And that might be in one area, might be just painting...

♪ And after the day

...or just music.

Find that comfort. [ Sings indistinctly ]

But equally, if their idea requires other great artists

to realize what they want to do,

well, then The Shed's a great place

to find those other artists to make that work.

All around there's this sense of trust

that all of these artists trust each other

to make a new piece.

So what you've seen there is --

McCaw: Alex, part of his magic is that he will say,

"Have you thought this artist?" really pushing artists

to not just think about the sort of collaborators

they always work with,

and I think that is intriguing.

It's almost like that inventive value

that we have, like that exploration.

Artists, when they come here, they're like,

"Oh, there's a place to do this,"

and then they had the capacity in which to do it.

So The Shed comprises of two component parts,

a fixed building made of multi-story

large footprint column-free spaces where visual arts,

performing arts, and anything creative can happen,

and a telescoping outer shell which, when it deploys,

doubles the footprint of the original building.

There is this very transformational space

called The McCourt,

which can go from a visual art space to a pop venue

to a performing art space with 1,300 seats.

It can go from light-filled, natural light-filled,

to complete darkness,

where you can control the lighting and the sound.

Can go up to 108 decibels for hip hop music.

And the pop space is over 2,000 standing capacity.

The McCourt can be filled in almost any different way.

So if you look the way it was setup for Soundtrack of America,

it was 2,000 people standing and 400 people seated.

If you look at the way it was for Bjork,

it was this incredibly elaborate set with

about 1,400 people seated.

The set for "Dragon Spring, Phoenix Rise"

is completely different and really amazing.

And that's just the McCourt.

Diller: It's a steel exoskeleton with ETFE pillow skin,

which has a Teflon-based, air-filled skin

which, when, inflated,

has the thermal capacity of insulating glass

at 1/100 the weight.

So it was very deliberate use of this unusual material

for the project.

When it deploys,

it takes five minutes for it to completely open

and takes the horsepower of one Prius engine.


It's very efficient,

it's very smart,

and it's very sustainable.

The Shed also, when it deploys,

it has very large guillotine doors,

which are these 30-foot-high glass doors

that can open completely up

and make the space sort of indoor or outdoor.

So the breeze could come in, the weather could come in,

the public could come in and out.

And so it has a lot of flexibility.

So really, in one space,

you can do a lot of things there,

but then we also have to A-list galleries.

And then above that, we have the 500-seat theater.

Diller: So there are two galleries that are stacked

and then the theater is on top of that.

So on gallery two, the operable wall

allows there to be a balcony for extra-large events

where we need to expand the audience.

We use it sometimes as a kind of balcony space

and partition off the gallery.

The east facade has these glass doors

that could entirely open

and we could have a very large event on 35,000 square feet

across the open Shed and the first floor gallery.

You can fly anything from anywhere

and it's basically an open infrastructure.

Levin: That beautiful exterior,

that lattice work is a big chase structure.

What they had done was taken standard gantry technology,

and, you know, if you've seen cargo ships unloading,

it's that same idea.

You have a big, broad, horizontal crane structure

that's up in the air.

Diller: By having this very open deck above.

It allows us to, you know, clip on some trusses

and fly them up with lighting fixtures really, really easily.

It's a little bit like the backstage

or fly space of a theater,

but one that could be inhabited by an audience

and by performers alike.

So we have everything in that space

and makes it extremely easy

to swap in technologies and equipment.

It makes it very easy to load in and load out a truck

that could back up into the space, back up into The Shed

with the operable doors up and unload very large things

right into the space of The Shed.

And then it acts really as an old fashioned gantry.

Right? You can haul anything up very, very easily,

or you can drive the truck right into the gallery,

or you can all haul things into the next level up

because its doors open as well.

And this is at the level of the Highline.

So when those guillotine doors are up,

you can flow off the Highline and right into the building.

They had already done a lot of the job

of making it flexible,

particularly for the performing arts and for the visual arts.

♪ Be bold, be brave

♪ Be loved, be you

♪ Be bold, be brave

♪ Be loved, be you

Poots: I was very keen that pop

was not going to be the poor relation

and that we would have parity across all of that.

Alex definitely leaned a little bit more to performance.

Before that, we then leaned a little bit more to visual arts

and then we started to balance everything out.

How do you soundproof between the main space

and the galleries in the theater?

Because if we can't do that, then when you've got like, uh,

a Soundtrack of America series with African-American music,

some of it highly amplified,

it closes the rest of the building down

because nothing can happen.

So he said, "Can you do a concert?

"109 in this space?"

"Well, you know, maybe not."

So we had to think a little bit differently.

Poots: By soundproofing it properly.

You could then go into a situation

where you had 1,250 in the main hall

and 500 in the theater simultaneously.

So actually what you were doing

was going from a regular evening capacity

in The Shed of 750 up to about 1,900.


All of it was designed to create a series of spaces

that were not just flexible, but fit for a purpose.

Specifically, across all art forms and all disciplines.


Diller: Cultural institutions don't form overnight.

And starting with an identity,

not only a physical structure, and an ethos,

but actually a programing strategy

that was unique was extremely important.

Our job is to find great artists wherever they are.

Whether they're very established, early career,

or or people in the community that we're working with.

And Tamara McCaw, our Chief Civic Program Officer,

her job is really focusing in on that.

Artists need opportunities.

Like, it's really hard to live here,

there's not enough space

being able to provide commissioning opportunities.

And so having all of that information

in our own past experience really give us the framework

for some of the work that we were going to do

and absolutely inspired things like Open Call.


Open Call is a large-scale commissioning program

for early career in New York City artists.

We use early career,

those things can be really hard to define.

But for us it was "has this artist

had sort of a large solo commissioned opportunity

at soft of a larger scale public institution?"

And if they hadn't had that opportunity,

this would be a really great program for them.

And it gives up to $15,000 commissioning fee,

The Shed will do all the running costs,

install, de-install, mentorship, and just sort of support.

♪ Like prison

We heard over and over that we needed to serve

the city's creative community,

not just the folks who had already had some success,

but people starting out, and that they needed space

to both work as well as space to perform,

and that it shouldn't be, you know, the back of hand,

second-rate kind of space.

It encompasses sort of seven weeks here in the theater space

that we're sitting in now,

a large sort of scale group show in our gallery.

And so it will be really great to have all the jewels

that The Shed has is open to all these emerging artists,

and they'll be able to perform

and be presented in these different spaces.


It's been really great. When we started this,

we didn't know how many artists were going to sort of select.


In the end, we selected 52 artists,

it was sort of too many to put into the inaugural season,

so about eight of them were gonna present in 2020.

Levin: Admission to that will be free,

but it's going to be shown side by side

with some of the other work

that's done by some of the most established,

most influential artists working in the world.

And to me, that says a lot about how you describe partnership

and community in arts and culture.

And I think one of the things that people have rallied around

in terms of The Shed has been in the inclusive nature of it.

FlexNYC is one of our --

I think it's, like, our first program that The Shed ever did.

It's a social justice dance residency.

Flexn's a style of street dance

that started out in East New York,

and the artistic director,

one of the sort of OGs and originators

is Reggie "Regg Roc" Gray.

Kids love flexn because of the wildness of it.

It's always the, "What is this? Why is he more regular?

How does his body move like that?

How is he stopping?"

Like, you know, they're so wowed by it.

And what we do is not only

teach this style of dance for free,

we'll send in teaching artists twice a week

to both public schools, NYCHA community centers,

but it really is an opportunity for young people

to think about the issues that move them,

that they care about, that they're afraid,

things that they can't always express,

and to use dance as a tool to talk about those issues.

Gray: Because they can move about it

and we talk to them about what is flexn --

"Hey, how was your day?"

And they see how their day was.

And we say, "Well, hey,

what would it be like if you danced your day out?"

That's, like, that release for them.

But then they'll come back to it

and they'll be able to create themselves.

I think that's also one of the biggest things with flexn.

You're able to be able to create whatever you want.

And there's no rules to it.

You know, no one's saying,

"No, that's not the right way to do it.

You've got to be in this line."

It's more like create.

Be who you are and then understand foundation,

understand how everything else works.

And I think that's really helpful

for the students, for us, for people.

Well, you know, the body speaks with the tongue, doesn't it?


Poots: The Shed is a place

where there's parity across all forms of art.

So an artist from the performing arts

to the visual arts or the pop world,

they're all treated equally,

whether they are early career artists

or very established artists.

There's parity across all of that.

There's no high or low in our game.


We're a platform for artists to create on.

That, rather than imposing sort of rigid, physical rules

of what has to happen in the space,


we can accommodate virtually any artists' dreams

or ambitions.

Like the animal you make me to be,

like a thief in the night,

I steal my joy from right up under you.

♪ These days

So this guy buys himself an old telephone booth.

Fleming: The thing I love most about the programing,

however, is new work.

You know, I felt for a long time

that I'm hungry for an artistic dialogue

that, of course, is rooted in history,

is rooted in our performance practice,

in our performance history,

but deals with relevant and current subjects.

[ Vocalizing ]

I have no opinion on that.


The boundaries between the art forms are becoming more porous.

It's a very fluid moment in that sense.

There's a fluidity of practice

and the institution here tries to answer that.

The Shed really tries to keep opportunities for the artists

to realize these are often, you know,

unrealized projects.

♪ Neo Afro futuristic

♪ psychedelic surrealisitc hippy ♪


The idea that the artists that we've been working with,

especially these emerging artists through Open Call

and through our lab program,

that they become part of The Shed family,

and that the building can respond to artists' needs,

but it allows us to have an artist

that needs a smaller sort of --

has a smaller audience, and it can grow.

And the idea that we can be pipelining artists

in that way is very exciting.

Diller: We don't want this to be a backdrop.

We really want an interaction between physical space

and artists into the future.

So we hope that they engage the movement and the dynamics

and also the specific vision that we have.

You're really living your dream.

It's a phrase people say a lot.

What that actually means,

taking a chance on projecting out something

that other people haven't thought of

in a way using forms and vocabularies

that people haven't put together before.


That's a lot, so hopefully that will be the basis

of The Shed's success going forward.











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