Is This the Arts Venue of the Fu­ture?

At New York’s new­est arts space, walls are de­signed to dis­ap­pear


The build­ing is called The Shed, though there is not much about the 200,000-square-foot, eight-level arts space that re­calls a rick­ety gar­den shack. The US$500 mil­lion build­ing, cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion where the High Line meets Hud­son Yards, is set to re­de­fine what an event space looks like in the 21st cen­tury: Walls slide open, two the­aters merge into one, black­out drapes can turn a sun-lit gallery into a black box, and most re­mark­ably, the struc­ture fea­tures a tele­scop­ing outer shell that can be pulled back on a dou­ble-wheel track. “The op­por­tu­nity to de­sign a ground-up build­ing for the arts forced the ques­tion, ‘What will art look like in the next 10 years, 20 years and be­yond?’,” says Ms. El­iz­a­beth Diller, ar­chi­tect at Diller Scofidio + Ren­fro, who de­signed The Shed in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rock­well Group. “The an­swer was that we sim­ply could not know.” All the firm could be cer­tain of was that there would be a need for con­di­tioned space of dif­fer­ent heights and sizes, a need for struc­tural load­ing ca­pac­ity and a need for elec­tri­cal power. Ms. Diller de­scribes the solution as “an ar­chi­tec­ture of in­fra­struc­ture”.

When fully de­ployed, the build­ing shell cre­ates a 17,000-square-foot hall that is light-, sound- and tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled. This flex­i­ble space can re­spond to vari­able needs in scale, me­dia and tech­nol­ogy and can serve as a theater that seats 1,250 peo­ple or a stand­ing au­di­ence of 2,700. The hall ceil­ing acts as a the­atri­cal deck and fly loft where rig­ging can be set up across the en­tire vol­ume of space above the au­di­ence. “And all of this can be changed in the mat­ter of a day,” ex­plains The Shed’s CEO and artis­tic di­rec­tor, Mr. Alex Poots. Things have be­come more fluid, he says, and there is a de­sire for syn­the­sis and for work that fits be­tween art forms. The pro­posal for The Shed dates back to 2005 when the City of New York launched plans to re­de­velop the far West Side of Man­hat­tan, and then mayor Mr. Michael Bloomberg des­ig­nated the 21,000-square­foot lot ad­ja­cent to the High Line at West 30th street as the fu­ture home for a to-be-de­ter­mined non­profit cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion. The land was al­lot­ted, but the con­cept for the new arts space – the first of its scale to be built in Man­hat­tan in over 50 years – re­mained vague.

Then in 2015 Alex Poots was brought on as artis­tic di­rec­tor. For­merly, Mr. Poots was the found­ing Di­rec­tor of the Manch­ester Arts Fes­ti­val and Artis­tic Di­rec­tor at New York’s Park Ar­mory, and pro­duced cross-genre works in­clud­ing Steve McQueen’s Queen and Coun­try; group show Il Tempo del Postino fea­tur­ing works by Carsten Höller, Tacita Dean, and Matthew Bar­ney; Zaha Ha­did’s tem­po­rary con­cert hall with Piotr An­der­szewski and Alina Ibrag­i­mova, and the world pre­mière of Paul McCarthy’s White Snow. In The Shed, Mr. Poots found flex­i­bil­ity imbed­ded into the build­ing in­fra­struc­ture. “I’ve never found one build­ing that could do every­thing,” he says. “With the (Manch­ester Arts) Fes­ti­val we had a whole city to play with. Here the build­ing plans I was look­ing at would ac­com­mo­date per­form­ing arts, vis­ual arts and pop cul­ture.” The Shed is sched­uled to open in the spring 2019 with a lineup of genre-bend­ing per­for­mances. “I am very in­ter­ested in work­ing with artists who have an idea that moves them into a new art form, or who have to work with other artists to re­al­ize their vi­sion,” says Mr. Poots. New works will in­clude Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, a fu­tur­is­tic Kung Fu mu­si­cal in which di­rec­tor Mr. Chen Shi-Zheng en­listed Mr. Akram Khan to cre­ate aerial chore­og­ra­phy. The piece fea­tures orig­i­nal songs by SIA and a set de­signed Mr. Tim Yip – his ini­tial sketches changed after he toured The Shed and re­al­ized the hall’s ca­pac­ity for creat­ing an al­ter­nate uni­verse around the story.

Other com­mis­sioned projects in­clude a col­lab­o­ra­tion match­ing the painter Mr. Ger­hard Richter with the mu­si­cians Mr. Steve Re­ich and Mr. Arvo Pärt and a per­for­mance con­ceived in part by the poet Ms. Anne Car­son on the sub­ject of Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe and He­len of Troy. The first com­mis­sion will be Sound­track of Amer­ica, a work meant to ad­dress the his­tory of African-Amer­i­can mu­sic from 1680 to the present as con­ceived by the film­maker Mr. Steve McQueen

( 12 Years a Slave, Shame) record pro­ducer Mr. Quincy Jones, New York Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor Mau­reen Ma­hon, and Mr. Dion “No I.D.” Wil­son, whose cred­its as a hip-hop pro­ducer in­clude work with Jay-Z and Kanye West. Cross-genre col­lab­o­ra­tions ef­forts of­ten yield pow­er­ful results, and arts venues like The Shed are lit­er­ally bend­ing to ac­com­mo­date the un­ex­pected. But this wasn’t al­ways the case. Early in his ca­reer Mr. Poots re­calls work­ing with Steve McQueen at Lon­don’s Chanel 4. “I re­mem­ber say­ing to my friends, ‘hey there’s this vis­ual artist I know who has some great ideas for films’, and my col­leagues said ‘vis­ual artists can’t make films’,” Poots laughs. “Well, in the end they met him and the rest is his­tory.” Artists shouldn’t be siloed as a prin­ci­ple, Mr. Poots says, but he is also care­ful not to cham­pion a cross-genre ap­proach over oth­ers. “It can be very sin­gu­lar, or it can be very in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary. I wouldn’t want to give the im­pres­sion we are choos­ing one over the other, but not many places can ac­com­mo­date both.” For more of the venue and its pro­grams, go to

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