The Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York is celebrating its 30th anniversary with an ambitious plan to build a new building made of old shipping containers—the site’s first permanent structure. The building, designed by LOT-EK, will house education and art making activities, exhibitions, and provide space for staff offices. The project itself repurposes and expands an earlier shipping container structure originally installed in the sunken garden in 2012 at the former Whitney Museum building, now known as the Met Breuer.
As the Whitney prepared to move to their new Renzo Piano-designed home downtown, the institution approached Socrates Sculpture Park about a donation of the LOT-EK structure, which had been used as a classroom. “The donation really jumpstarted a long-held desire for a building in the park,” says John Hatfield, the park’s executive director. In fact, Hatfield had long considering using shipping containers, already existing on site, and even asking LOT-EK to design the structure.
The original structure for the Whitney was composed of six shipping containers stacked together to create a cube. LOT-EK cut diagonal bands of windows and skylights through the structure and created a mezzanine inside. The structure was painted black on the exterior with the windows edged in neon yellow. The interior, meanwhile, was painted white. This module forms the first third of the new building for Socrates, which will include two additional modules and a framed outdoor space to create 2,800 square feet of usable interior space. Instead of the somber black, the new structure will be painted rust orange, in keeping with the site’s industrial past (it once was a waterfront landfill) and orange logo. It will be sited on a berm near the entrance to minimize the impact on the 5.8-acre site.
Founded by the sculptor Mark di Suvero, Socrates Sculpture Park is free to the public and open year-round. The park includes permanent and temporary works (including its annual “Folly” pavilion, a competition organized with the Architectural League of New York) and provides tools and fabrication workshops for the community as well as educational programming.“There’s a direct connection between our work and di Suvero’s,” says LOT-EK co-founder Ada Tolla, noting di Suvero’s interest in industrial materials and reusing spaces and landscapes. Hatfield says that repurposing the utilitarian storage units are in keeping with this ethos.
Until now, many activities in the park have depended on decent weather. The new building, Hatfield believes, will allow them to expand their offers, including in inclement conditions. “We will remain, predominantly, an outdoor experience,” he adds. They currently lease office space, so the new building help insulate the organization from the ever-escalating costs of renting in New York.
“A good piece of architecture can give an organization an expanded presence and help ground its identity,” Hatfield says.
The park hopes to complete the structure by 2018.