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Moving Right Along: The Building of the Future Tours New York City

Moving Right Along: The Building of the Future Tours New York City

The Flock House Project is a collaborative investigation between artists, alternative energy experts, engineers, architects and designers of sustainability and the city of the future, and features four artist-inhabited industrially-fabricated houses made of recycled and found materials.

This summer, Time Equities Art-in-Buildings program is showing Mary Mattingly’s Flock House “Chromasphere” with a site-specific painting installation by Greg Lindquist at the Maiden Lane Exhibition Space (located within the 125 Maiden Lane office condominium).

Meanwhile, the Flock House Project’s group of adaptable ecosystem buildings will migrate through New York City’s five boroughs and beyond. The hand-constructed Flock House prototype exhibited at the Maiden Lane Exhibition Space is the axis around which four fabricated nomadic Flock Houses will rotate over the course of the summer.

NREI spoke with Jennie Lamensdorf, curator of the Francis J. Greenburger Collection at Time Equities Inc.’s Art-in-Buildings program, about the project and what it says about what’s to come.

NREI: What is a “flock house,” exactly?

Jennie Lamensdorf: The Flock House is a mobile, self-sufficient living system. It is a partly fantastic, partly practical response to the realities of urban living, a way to move “off the grid” while simultaneously becoming more deeply invested in one’s neighborhood and community. The Flock House “Chromasphere,” on view at 125 Maiden Lane, is the prototype for four industrially-fabricated Flock Houses. Artist Mary Mattingly worked with an extensive group of collaborators to develop the final design, including architects, engineers, designers and alternative energy experts, among many others. In many ways, the design was contingent on available materials as recycling found materials is a crucial component of the artist’s practice.

NREI: Tell us about the Flock House Project.

Jennie Lamensdorf: The Flock House Project is a continuation of a series of questions Mary Mattingly investigates through her art practice. She is concerned with the environmental, political and economic instability faced by urban populations and the dislocation and relocation that comes with it. The Flock House is the result of examining what a modular or mobile infrastructure could look like. The Flock Houses, which are inhabited by artists, promote and implement a wider adaptation of green technologies—including rainwater capture, inner city agriculture, solar energy technologies and scalable, transportable living spaces—while maintaining their position as artworks. The Flock House especially expands on data collected from Mattingly’s Waterpod Project, a self-sustaining barge that toured the New York City waterways in 2009.

NREI: How did the group behind the project coalesce and what was its inspiration?

Jennie Lamensdorf: The group behind the Flock House coalesced slowly. First, Mary asked friends and friends of friends to participate. Then she worked with Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology and their student groups. Some collaborators and supporters of the Waterpod continued to work on this project, and new people came along. It was, and continues to be, an organic process.

NREI: So, according to the Flock House Project, what will the city of the future look like?

Jennie Lamensdorf: The Flock House Project is, above all, a public art project and provides just one theoretical window onto what the city of the future may look like. Rather than a new aesthetic or set of rules, the Flock House posits that urban centers must become more flexible and environmentally responsible in order to continue to thrive.

NREI: So is the building of the future going to be nomadic and easily constructed?

Jennie Lamensdorf: Perhaps. The Flock House is an idea-based project that cannot be applied on a macro level. The importance of this project is that it communicates in an engaging and unconventional manner ideas about the importance of recycled, rethought and redesigned materials and natural systems such rain water capture, inner-city agriculture, solar power and human-powered technologies such as bike generators.

NREI: It seems that people are seeing clearly how much sustainability matters to our future, but why is collaboration important?

Jennie Lamensdorf: Collaboration allows for more work to be done with less effort and expands opportunities for creative thinking about everyday problems. The Flock House “Chromasphere” cannot be assembled by one person. It demands collaboration and the back-and-forth of ideas that it implies.

NREI: What does it mean to have this artwork installed at 125 Maiden Lane, which is an office building, as part of a program sponsored by a real estate company?

Jennie Lamensdorf: 125 Maiden Lane is currently undergoing a major mechanical retrofit slated for completion in fall 2012. This extensive project will significantly increase control of the building's systems, energy use, and may result in a LEED Platinum certification, the highest LEED level. The building’s green initiatives in pursuit of LEED certification have resulted in pronounced improvements to the building, including diverting 75 percent of building waste from landfills, saving 13 percent of building water or 2 million gallons of water annually and implementing a comprehensive green cleaning and pest management program to minimize the use of toxic chemicals. Therefore, the Flock House “Chromasphere” is situated within a building occupied by people who not only recognize the importance of green building and environmentally sustainable practices, but who also understand the difficulties and challenges that accompany that sort of endeavor. Furthermore, it provides a striking contract between the two poles of green building: handmade and commercially built.

NREI: The exhibition opened on June 27. What kind of people are coming to see it and how is it being received?

Jennie Lamensdorf: Our opening reception was a great success. Since this was Art-in-Buildings’ 26th exhibition at 125 Maiden Lane, we have a strong core audience consisting of established visitors and the owners and tenants of 125 Maiden Lane. We also reach a wide swath of the New York arts community. We had artists, MFA students, collectors and critics, as well as lawyers, bankers and real estate professionals, among many others.

NREI: The flock houses are set to travel through New York City’s five boroughs. What is the ultimate goal of this project?

Jennie Lamensdorf: The “Chromasphere” will be installed at 125 Maiden Lane through the middle of October and will continue to develop as the months pass. The other Flock Houses will travel, “landing” in all five boroughs. The impetus behind traveling the Flock Houses throughout the city was to reach the widest possible audience as well as demonstrate how differently a structure can be perceived depending on its setting. These two facets particularly spoke to me when deciding to participate in this project because the Art-in-Buildings program is dedicated to bringing contemporary art to non-traditional exhibition spaces—like office building atriums—and expanding the audience for art.

NREI: How can people see the exhibition?

The Flock House “Chromasphere” can be visited Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Throughout the exhibition’s course, artist-in-residence Greg Lindquist will host workshops at the Flock House. For more information about these programs, follow us on Twitter @artinbuildings or on Facebook.

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