O’Donnell’s Party Wall Opens at MoMA PS1

Party Wall installation made from recycled skateboards and steel.

The installation was made from recycled steel and skateboard wood and has elements that provide shade, cool water, and seating. photo / Zachary Tyler Newton

July 2, 2013

Assistant professor of architecture Caroline O'Donnell isn't normally one for big speeches. At the June 27 opening of her installation Party Wall, in the courtyard of MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, however, she made an exception.

"There are a lot of things that I could say about the project," she told a crowd of more than 200 guests. "I know who the audience is here tonight, and I find myself returning to the idea of the shared wall: the party wall."

Party Wall, a Trojan horse-sized installation not far from the site of the Cornell NYC Tech campus, does quite a bit of talking for itself. Designed by O’Donnell, who holds the Richard Meier Professorship of Architecture, and her team at CODA, an Ithaca-based architecture firm, Party Wall eclipsed 30 nominees to win the MoMA PS1 2013 Young Architects Program. The annual contest is designed to engage young, innovative architects in creating a temporary structure for installation in the courtyard of PS1.

"Every year we enter into the jury for the young architects program and we think, 'What can somebody do that will really stun us and surprise us in this courtyard that has already been transformed 13 or 14 different times in different ways?’" said Berry Bergdoll, chief curator of architecture and design at MoMA. "Every year, a canopy appears, something familiar appears, and then something unbelievable appears — such as this."

Composed of remaindered steel and wood recycled from skateboard manufacture, and ballasted by hot air balloon-sized bladders of water, Party Wall not only met the demands of the contest — combining shade, seating, and water with sustainability in mind — it also incorporated elements of the urban landscape.

"I think we were conquered as a jury," said Pedro Gadanho, curator of MoMA's Department of Architecture and Design. "Caroline was offering a structure that related to the scale of the city around us, evoking some of the elements that we see around like billboards and so on, [and had] this strategy of using byproducts of skateboard production, to actually use them as the recycled element that would go to waste, and to transform them into a beautiful, rendered lace structure of architecture."

A group of Cornell undergraduates, graduates, and first-year teaching associates were among those who assisted with the Party Wall project. During "Skateboard Saturdays" in Ithaca, they turned 3,000 pieces of remaindered skateboard cutouts into 150 panels used to build the structure.

"The crew that helped us, the Cornell student and alumni volunteers over the last five weeks have been a really stellar group and have taught me a lot about attitude being everything," O’Donnell said.

Seeing the project come together, particularly with the help of undergraduate students, was a particular point of pride for Kent Kleinman, the Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of Architecture, Art and Planning.

"I'm enormously proud of Caroline and the team," he said. "It feels really, really great to have this happen on this stage, outside of Ithaca, in this context where Cornell's presence in New York is so important. I couldn’t be happier."

Pat Govang, CEO of Comet Action Sports, the Ithaca-based skateboard company who supplied the wood necessary to build Party Wall, shared Kleinman's enthusiasm.

"It was great to walk in and just see it," Govang said. "We had seen the pictures. We had seen the boards going out the door for the last couple of months. It’s fantastic beyond my wildest expectations."

— Claire Lambrecht

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