We’ve got an Insulation Installation

The horizon on summer 2014 is in sight, which means the season’s projects are coming to fruition. This week we had an opening party for The Foam Agency’s (TFA) project at Makeshift Brooklyn, which was completed by Elisa Werbler and Lucy Knops as the focus of their residency this summer.

Watch the making of the wall, then I’ll explain what it is.

That’s what you get when you go around to lots of architecture and design offices and ask them for the scraps in their model shops. Many offices use rigid insulation foam, a material meant for the inside of walls, as a quick way to make models. With a hot wire, it cuts like butter — slightly toxic butter!

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Armed with bags and bags of scraps, the TFA assembled the pieces inside the wall of our conference room to create something of a neo-stained glass. The effect is gorgeous, with dappled light filtering through. Plus the pieces themselves tell the story of the design process inside all of the offices that contributed.

Here’s before:

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And after:

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The TFA also made a small newspaper that explains the process and includes an excellent map of all of the contributions. You can pick one up by visiting us at 55 Hope Street in Brooklyn.

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Here’s a short essay I wrote about the project and what it means to us:

Tuck into a bar or cafe in Brooklyn and one is likely to find the walls artfully covered with strips of rusticated wood and patinated metal. This familiar tableaux was the aesthetic of the early 21st century—a comfortable nostalgia guiding you back to a time before we waged wars against non-state agents, before our beloved phones were turned into surveillance devices, before we found out precisely how much we have messed up our planet’s ecosystem.

In the thematic environments of prohibition speakeasies, art deco bakeries, and nineties norm core cafes, we live our thoroughly contemporary lives. We fight the fear of missing out by hanging one more brass light fixture, reviving one more recipe previously lost to history. Nothing is missed because everything can be replayed. It’s all so comfortable.

Our devices have finally been ridded of skeuomorphic interfaces, but the spaces we inhabit cling to the idea of being faux-miliar. The city of today is no longer constructed outright, but is reassembled from memories, filtered through movies, and built with whatever can be claimed to be reclaimed. The Insulation Installation invites you to live in an adjacent world.

Here the materials are also recycled, but from processes rather than heritage. The Foam Agency, led by Lucy Knops and Elisa Werbler, has canvassed the city’s architectural, industrial design, and fabrication studios to collect offcuts and scraps from rigid insulation foam. These pieces, the discarded siblings of models and mockups produced by participating studios, formed the raw material of a permanent installation at Makeshift Society Brooklyn.

Rigid insulation foam is one of the quiet heroes of modern construction. Behind building facades and inside walls, it works relentlessly to prevent drafts and keep moisture at bay. Artists and designers have adopted this incredible material as a tool for expressing their ideas because of its low cost and high flexibility. From beautifully articulated, hand-crafted models to full scale architectural mock-ups, rigid foam has become an integral part of the making process.

In the Insulation Installation foam is restored to its natural habitat—the cavity of a wall—where the many scraps come together to form a single texture visible through polycarbonate cladding. Evident in the irregular shapes, and gaps between them, are traces of this particular city’s intellectual production at this particular time. What’s actually on display is the exploratory thought process of the participating offices. Foam is just the medium.

This project makes playful references, but does not go so far as to import dusty tropes from history. It’s an unassuming interpretation of the heavy stone walls at Herzog & De Meuron’s Dominus Winery (itself a modernization of Roman gabion construction). It’s a legitimate reuse of toxic trash, but resists being greenwash propaganda. The completed wall is confetti in slow motion; a celebration of long hours hunched over the hot-wire cutter making, making, making.

The world of the Insulation Installation is one where history is present, but not a crutch. There’s nothing to miss out on, because everything’s here, right now, all around us. We’re responsible for making it happen. This is a speck of a reminder: history may be inescapable but the walls, buildings, and streets that we have are the ones that we claim for ourselves.

The residency program is open to anyone who has a great idea for a project (but please read the criteria closely). And of course you’re welcome to book our conference room by the hour if your having foam-o.

Please join us on August 28 for the monthly mixer, and the opening of another residency project, this one by Gina Furnari.