ANYA SIROTA + AKOAKI
Nice Outfit, The Mothership, Electrofrost, The Carr Center, Pop It Up, Electroform(alism), Interrobang, Adore me Wild, Imaging Detroit, ROTC, My Love For You Burns All The Time, General Manifold at Federal Screw Works, The Beta Movement.
The Carr Center invited us to produce an installation for Harmonie Park in downtown Detroit. The task: to create a visible and convivial staging area for its summer performance series. We in turn invited the famed artist Olayami Dabls to join us and were very happy when he obliged.
Dabls is best known for his urban-scaled project at the Detroit African Bead Museum, which he founded more than 15 years ago. As a collection, his layered sculptural pieces create an uncanny, saturated environment, materializing a relational claim to ancestral African tradition. With a narrative that’s empathic, pleasurable and disruptive, the significance of the work to the city of Detroit is palpable.
Helping bring Olayami Dabls visual and material sensibility to the epicenter of Detroit’s economic resurgence is neither entirely innocent nor dogmatic. The intervention, fusing art and architecture, aspires to trigger experience that’s simultaneously aesthetic and receptive to the political realities of a place.
The installation itself, alluding to themes from the African diaspora, introduces a family of nine wooden forms. They’re wearing nice outfits and they form a friendly entourage. Hand painted layered surfaces and reflective mirrors create abstract flickering effects with color and light, while anamorphic projections multiply the number of figures in the crowd. Nice Outfit, as a temporary marker for the institution, defines the park’s performance spaces and pathways, creating surprising spatial effects and collective experiences.
Funded by Quickens Loans, commissioned by the Carr Center.
More info Opening event
The P-Funk inspired Mothership is a mobile DJ booth and broadcast module that we’ve launched in Detroit’s North End neighborhood. Channeling the Afro-Futurist sensibility and playfulness of the legendary funk emblem, the Mothership marks the beginning of the O.N.E. Mile project, which will stage a series of experimental happenings in the North End over the course of the year.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Electrofrost is an ongoing collaborative experiment that starts from a simple idea: the atmosphere is an abundant, ambient resource. Its particulates, gases, vapors, and invisible fields make up the ubiquitous ether that conditions experience. By calibrating those elements, the project cultivates and trains the ethereal production of frost, making the material environment visible.
Our current research looks at ways that architecture can literally design with frost. We’re testing how electrostatic effects the appearance and longevity of frost, both as an ornament and a thermal amenity. We’re designing new substrates, experimenting with electric fields, and considering ways that this ephemeral process can be applied to architectural scenarios.
Electrofrost was developed in collaboration with Patrick Beauce and Meredith Miller and in consultation with Nilton Renno.
Funded by Taubman College Research Through Making Grant, 2014-2015, with support from the University of Michigan Office of Research.
The Carr Center
The Carr Center is an African American cultural center in downtown Detroit that occupies a former German social club known as the historic Harmonie Building. With downtown redevelopments proceeding at a formidable clip, Akoaki was invited to produce an architectural and programmatic strategy to amplify the institution’s visibility, cultural reach and social impact.
Over the course of a year, we developed a proposal that's both strategic and playful. It phases the adaptation of the building, tests architecture's capacity to sponsor activity, expands on exploratory curatorial programs, and produces a potent scenography for the third floor ballroom. Concerned with issues of aesthetics, organization, and economy, the project imagines juxtaposing historical patina with contemporary design to generate a compelling public space open to appropriation and experiment. Most importantly, the proposal figures the cultural center as a broadcast venue that extends beyond the material bounds of the institution.
POP IT UP
Les Tanneries, Amilly, France
We've installed two monumental stars in a defunct tannery in Amilly, France. The structures, built in situ, span over thirty feet point to point and deploy the logics of American vernacular stud construction in order to deliver an iconographic pow. As floating signifiers, they encourage visitors to take a fresh look at the spatial potentials of an industrial site in the process of transformation and to imagine a more playful, dynamic and collective future.
The project, titled Pop It Up, comes at a critical moment for the tannery complex. Next year, the site will be converted into a cultural art center. In its current state of coming-undone-ness, however, with its bared concrete structure and second-story wood flooring and windows removed, the surviving architecture offers exceptional opportunities for experimentation and interim engagement.
One seven pointed star hovers dexterously above the exhibition space clipped to the existing concrete structure. The second star steps out between columns on the ground floor, and balances precariously over the tannery tanks. The two mischievous protagonists become three dimensional supergraphics and perform in dialogue with the idiosyncrasies of the industrial building as well as the landscape beyond.
The forms which can be viewed from above, below and at eye level engage multiple and overlapping vantage points, suggesting that challenging geometries can be arrived at through simple, approachable techniques independent of costly contemporary fabrication facilities. All elements in the project were produced and assembled on site fusing tools germane to conventional construction: a mill saw, a table saw, a pneumatic stapler and a few screw guns.
The project, commissioned by the city of Amilly and curated by Christophe Ponceau, was made possible through support from the City of Amilly, the Region Centre and Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning. Pop It Up, including a photo installation by artist Marie Combes, was on exhibit at Les Tanneries through September 29, 2013.
Electroform(alism) explores hybrid ways of making - reviving Nineteenth Century metal plating techniques and adjusting them to contemporary design and fabrication methods. In re-imagining electroforming as an intrepid, present-day process that moves beyond the simple replication of metallic objects on a master form, the strategy tests novel aesthetic, material and economic possibilities in service of mass customization. Using expendable and embedded substrates, the prototypes generate distinct metallurgical ornament and articulated skins. More importantly, perhaps, the process also conceives of a new mode of small scale fabrication – one that is adaptive, nomadic and generative.
The project is made possible through a Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning Research Through Making Grant.
Interrobang was a public event and temporary gallery staged on the rooftop of Detroit’s Packard Automotive Plant. Designed in response to the infamous building’s impending sale at auction, the project guided visitors through a precarious urban scenario and asks them to speculate about the site’s possible, collective futures.
The Packard Plant has been shut and out of sorts for more than half a century now. The result of its prolonged degradation is a strange and provocative situation – not quite architecture, nor landscape – but a promiscuous hybrid that challenges our very notions of progress and urbanity.
In the current market economy, conventional redevelopment at the Packard is unfeasible. The continued exuberance of Detroit’s scrapping industry has devalued the building to the point that demolition costs cannot be offset through metal recycling. And in the face of looming bankruptcy, city financing for cleanup is a pipe dream. One thing remains clear: if left untreated, the Packard’s glacial decline will remain an urban foil – both materially for the residents living adjacent to the site and iconographically as an unsolicited monument to capital extraction.
In response, Interrobang aimed to make the Packard, however briefly, public and inhabitable. For most the difficulty and mutability of the industrial complex made a visit feel risky, relegating an appraisal of this urban scenario to images disseminated in the media. Interrobang suggested that a series of simple design interventions can lend transparency and vivacity to a space typically associated with Detroit’s capital failures.
At core, the intervention was unassuming. First Interrobang cleared a path from the debris of Packard’s unhinged landscape. The resulting trail led visitors through the building and to a curated roofscape along East Grand Boulevard. Here they encounter an installation with interactive data cards and a 16 foot architectural model assessing the contemporary condition of each parcel on the 40-acre complex. At the center of the informal gallery space: an aggregate seating area produced through interlocking modules which can be reconfigured to produce social clusters of variable scales.
As the title of the project implies, reactions to the site’s current condition can be both exclamatory and questioning. Interrobang suggests that beyond lament or fetishism in the face of such unmitigated ruination, public engagement might help project more inspired, collective ideas about urban space.
Adore Me Wild
Adore Me Wild is a deployable urban wilderness. Mobile, stackable, mutable, enduring and ephemeral, the garden explores the productive intersection between the urban and the wild. It suggests that wilderness as space outside of human control no longer resides in opposition to development. Not savage, or threatening, or even undone. Here emergent wilderness is re-imagined as optimistic and restorative. Dare we say, liberating.
Adore Me Wild takes its cues from North American urbanity and the contemporary corrective adjustments associated with the great economic slump. In Rustbelt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, well outside the bounds of national forests and parks, wilderness is returning with triumphal oomph. The resurgence, manifesting itself in humble and surprising places, is bringing along with it the unbridled logics of lush, bio-diverse vegetal environments and their corollary beasts. Along rivers, gulches, within neglected architectures, on blistering shoppingscapes a new botanical vibrancy is contributing to an unprecedented urban anatomy, one in which the built environment coexists with wild, sometimes feral, flora and fauna.
For Landing Lausanne Jardin 2014, Adore Me Wild proposes to harness the power of emergent urban wilderness, its vegetal exuberance, bird songs, butterfly bushes, its edibles, scents, prairie grasses, wildflowers, corrective saplings, opportunistic vines. The logic here is one of hybridity, where the built and the natural produce a symbiotic whole. Siding neither with architecture, nor with landscape, the garden seeks to produce a sensorium which will allow visitors to imagine a possible coexistence of the city and the wild.
Adore Me Wild features stackable recycled containers in the role of over-scaled planters. Together, they produce an inhabitable urban topography connected vertically through a temporary scaffolding circulatory core. The plants as curated attractors are assembled to produce changing visual intrigue over the course of the growing season and to accommodate native wildlife. The containers are planted in advance of the Lausanne Jardin 2014 opening event and delivered on flatbed trucks to the site. A crane moves the containers into position where they are riveted together at calculated joints. The installation serves as a public performance.
Imaging Detroit, equal parts international film festival and pop-up agora, aimed to spark a conversation about the many ways Detroit has been portrayed over the last decade. It staged public debate and open speculation on how the power of image making may be projected toward the production of a new urban imaginary. In assembling a varied collection of works and guests, Imaging Detroit revealed the possibility of an ephemeral urbanization. The pop-up agora offered the city a 36-hour assembly and debate, turning Perrien Park into a vibrant civic space, complete with screenings, conversations, exhibit, food and leisure.
The project was produced through a Research in the City Grant awarded to The Metropolitan Observatory of Digital Culture and Representation.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
a Research on the City Exhibit at Liberty Annex.
My Love For You Burns all the Time
Williamsburg, New York
My Love For You Burns all the Time an exhibition at The Soloway Gallery of silver fragments of ruination from Detroit’s iconic Packard Plant. The work assembles together a series of replicas depicting sublime architectural obsolescence. The resultant survey abstracts and reveals the notorious post-industrial behemoth’s chimerical appeal.
This constellation of derelict miniatures produced for the exhibit suggests that the Packard Plant’s stature and industrial uselessness secures its self-referential monumentality. At a precarious moment in the building’s history, as buzz about imminent demolition continues to grow, the work is a commentary on contemporary fascination with representations of decay and the value of neglected sites in the collective optic. Included in the exhibition, alongside handsome reproductions of cropped remains, we constructed a three dimensional sectional model from Albert Kahn’s original drawings. Also shown are a video and a fully-illustrated catalog.
General Manifold at Federal Screw Works
After coming upon an 80,000 sf defunct industrial complex in the heart of downtown Chelsea, Michigan, we searched public records, located the owner, and gained access in order to produce General Manifold, an architectural installation lodged in the factory’s historic core.
General Manifold is an immersive architectural environment installed in the abandoned Federal Screw Works factory. This installation reacts to the derelict context of the abandoned industrial site, providing a moment of surprise and punctuation to a choreographed event. A mysterious magenta void is carved from the perceived solid of the factory’s central space, generating a site of geometric complexity, chromatic contrast, and optical distortion. A series of precise cuts in the truncated spatial pyramids produces an effect of perspectival inversion, causing the visitor to question the depth, dimension, and scale of this aberrant environment.
Inside General Manifold, the visitor encounters a 6-channel soundscape consisting of spatially localized and syncopated industrial sounds layered over readings of seminal ruin texts from the 18th and 19th centuries (John Ruskin, Viollet le Duc, Bernadin de St Pierre, Denis Diderot). The soundscape was produced in collaboration with Playboy cover model and radio host Brandie Moses. At the end of the event, the visitor is invited to see the space turned inside-out, an unanticipated opportunity to inhabit the poche.
The Beta Movement
Los Angeles, California
In winter 2011, we were invited to produce an architectural exhibition for the WUHo gallery - a small storefront venue on Los Angeles’s storied Hollywood Boulevard. Against a backdrop of consummate glitz – the setting for the Academy Awards, the unremitting stars on the Walk of Fame and the unbridled spectacle of Hollywood’s canonical theaters – the gallery seemed quaint, humble, let’s say, invisible. In this context, architecture’s formal preoccupations appeared outmoded against the force and vitality of performative conspicuous consumption.
Confronting the audacity of the streetscape, and the indiscernibility of the architectural exhibition space, we focused on deployable performance as spatial strategy. As a consequence, in lieu of a polite architectural exhibition, we staged a spatial transformation. We called it The Beta Movement. Part scenographic intervention, part inhabitable supergraphic, the installation cast aside conventional notions of architectural connoisseurship in favor of a direct engagement with the multiple publics. We imagined the project as a grand-scale temporary self-propagating photomaton, inviting tourists and Angelinos inside for their own red carpet moment. Stars plucked from the famous sidewalk and projected through the gallery, producing a series of spatial distortions that are replete with filmic references to superheroes, hyperspace, hypnotism, evil lairs and astrophysical singularities. Upon entry into the space, the rough qualities of the exposed construction reveal the temporary nature of the illusion. Cutting from one void to the next, visitors made their way to a projection room where video and text describe the formal procedures at play.