Photo courtesy estudio teddy cruz

Manufactured Sites: Housing Urbanism Made of Waste, Teddy Cruz, 2008. Click on the slide show button to view more images.

On Tuesday night, architects Greg Lynn and Teddy Cruz were named United States Artists Fellows for 2010, and they celebrated the no-strings-attached gifts of $50,000 at a reception at New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center. Fifty other artists from the U.S. and Puerto Rico also received the fellowships, which have been distributed annually since 2005.

About 450 people attended the lively event, where dancers, musicians, actors and others—all current or former fellowship recipients—performed against a backdrop of the twinkling lights of traffic on 59th Street. The names of the 2010 recipients and images of their work played intermittently on two large screens. Following the performances, attendees trickled downstairs to a champagne and dessert reception.

“It’s not just flattering,” said Lynn, with a wide grin, of the award. “It’s also a total, perfect surprise.” Lynn, founder of Greg Lynn FORM, based in Venice, California, is known for his high-tech designs and use of robotics and digital tools for fabrication. The fellowship will help him fund a burgeoning idea:  a “gas” station of the future that features a canopy of photovoltaic cells supported by columns made of video screens, at the base of which will be “urban furniture.” The building will include charging stations for electric cars and bikes. 

Cruz, meanwhile, expects to receive construction permits this week for two affordable housing projects in San Ysidro, California—the next phase in a nearly decade-long project to develop better living conditions in U.S.-Mexico border shantytowns. The fellowship will allow him to continue hard-to-fund research in borderlands and areas of conflict, said Cruz. His practice, estudio teddy cruz, is based in La Jolla, California.

Three other design-oriented artists received USA fellowships this year: David Reinfurt, a New York-based graphic designer; Siah Armajani, a Minnesota-based sculptor whose work includes bridges, gardens, and other public spaces; and Matthias Pliessnig, a Philadelphia-based furniture designer. 

United States Artists was founded six years ago through $22 million in seed money provided by the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Prudential Foundation, and the Rasmuson Foundation. “As public institutions abandoned their support of artists, these foundations stepped forward,” says USA Executive Director Katharine DeShaw.

In total, the organization has awarded 250 fellowships over the years. Recipients say the prize money is a big help. “In this economic climate, it’s a tremendous relief,” said Pliessnig. “It takes the pressure off doing things that are really safe.” Pliessnig uses 3-D modeling software to create sensuous bent-wood furniture, often custom-made for architectural spaces. But with the cushion of the fellowship, he plans to experiment with thin-shelled concrete biomorphic forms.