On Saturday, MoMA PS1 kicks off its 15th summer Warm Up. This year, Wendy, a spiky blue mass that floats in a steel scaffold, will cool crowds at the Saturday concerts in the museum's courtyard. Matthias Hollwich and Marc Kushner, of the New York architecture firm HWKN, won this year's Young Architects Program (YAP) award (now in its 13th year) with their design for the work.
Last Sunday, in an on-site interview with A.i.A, Hollwich described how Wendy will do more than shade concert-goers. Pointing to one of the work's pyramidal arms dripping cool water, he explained that the structure functions as an air purification system. The bright nylon surface is coated with titania nanoparticle (TiO2), which breaks down nitrogen oxide (NO2), the pollutant produced by most cars. Hollwich and Kushner expect Wendy to remove the equivalent of 260 cars' exhaust from the air during a two-month installation this summer.
In an email, Hollwich and Kushner wrote that they learned about the purifying particles from Tony Ryan, a chemist at the University of Sheffield in England, who is promoting use of the spray in fashion design as well as architecture. Richard Meier used the technology for his Jubilee Church in Rome, in part to keep the building's façade pristine.
Hollwich explained that Wendy relies on the sun to clean the air around her; sunlight catalyzes the compound's photosynthetic purification process. However, Hollwich and Kushner wrote, "Wendy loves the rain." In wet weather, "the mist will just be more intense."
MoMA curator of contemporary architecture Pedro Gadanho, who orchestrates New York's YAP as well as satellite programs in Rome and Santiago, told A.i.A., "The fact that Wendy is spiky comes out of this material—using as much of it as possible." Pieces of the treated nylon wrap the diagonal crossbeams of a scaffold (70 by 70 by 45 feet) that straddles the three sections of the courtyard.
In addition to cleaning the air, Wendy cools and moistens the area around her with mist and features a water cannon that launches 70 feet in the air. Water pours into six connected boxlike pools, where it is cleaned and then pumped back into Wendy's network of misters and condensation collection pools, to be reused in the cannon. Mist escapes through openings at the ends of Wendy's arms. Condensed water drips from the nylon, an effect that the architects say makes Wendy "even more lively."
Comparing Wendy to minimalist sculpture, Gadanho described the structure as creating "architectural space that is very concise." But, he said, "it manages to activate all three spaces."
During the summer, limited access will be granted to visitors who wish to climb into Wendy's core. Inside her nylon shell, eight goldenrod fans whirl, and clear plastic tarps collect condensed vapor. Fans increase airflow around the structure in order to circulate mist and expose more air to its treated surface for purification.
Regarding the structure's title, Hollwich and Kushner wrote, "WENDY is the perfect storm (storms have traditional women's names), and she is a prototype (NASA used women's names for explorative projects)." The name also seems intended to soften Wendy's garish, geometric appearance: "We also wanted a name that makes the project personal and relatable—so people emotionally connect—and WENDY seems to do so."
Wendy is installed at MoMA/PS1 through Sept. 8.