In Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, one of the most interesting places described is Thekla, a city consisting entirely of endless construction—nothing but cranes, pulleys, and scaffolding. If you ask Thekla’s residents why its construction is taking so long, they “continue hoisting sacks, lowering leaded strings, moving long brushes up and down, as they answer, ‘So that its destruction cannot begin.’ And if asked whether they fear that, once the scaffolding is removed, the city may begin to crumble and fall to pieces, they add hastily, in a whisper, ‘Not only the city.'”
In Calvino’s work, scaffolding is a metaphor for progress without substance—interminable development as a way to create meaning as a species. Without it, jobs disappear, the landscape disappears, even meaning itself disappears.
In New York City, scaffolding is as ubiquitous a part of the landscape as the buildings it sheathes, moving across neighborhoods like an urban kudzu. An estimated 280 miles of it stretch across the city at any given moment. In an upcoming exhibit at the Center for Architecture, scaffolding as a typology—with all its vernacular potential and industrial usage—is given a thorough examination.
Is it a building? Not entirely, although it emulates buildings and can serve as a shelter. Is it an exoskeleton or an endoskeleton? It can be both, thrown up to restore interiors or panel up facades. As the exhibit explores, scaffolding is a flexible architecture, a nuisance to some , an aesthetic choice to others (for instance, Doug and Mike Starn), temporary or permanent, modular … the list goes on.
In this spirit, the Center for Architecture’s upcoming exhibit Scaffolding will include case studies of the support structure’s functions around the globe. The show’s curator, Greg Barton, created a visual history of its development as a technology, from the wooden beams and bamboo of an earlier era to the steel and aluminum of today. 1
Scaffolding curated by Greg Barton, examines the extraordinary applications of scaffolding as a kit-of-parts technology to provide novel forms of inhabitation and access. Through an installation designed by Shohei Shigematsu and OMA New York with graphic design by MTWTF, Scaffolding will disrupt the architectural space of the Center for Architecture, instilling a new appreciation of scaffolding and its transformative potential.
Of particular interest to our local New York City audience, scaffolding is a flexible and accessible system hiding in plain sight. Despite its indispensable link to architecture, scaffolding is too often maligned as a necessary nuisance. The exhibition demonstrates how this simple construction technology lends itself to compelling installations, positioning it as a pragmatic tool for radical architecture and civic engagement.
There are an estimated 280 miles of scaffolding occupying New York City at any given time; it is something pedestrians encounter every day. How might we begin to imagine alternative uses and appreciate it anew?
Exhibition Curator: Greg Barton
Exhibition Designer: OMA New York
Exhibition Graphics: MTWTF