Vernacular, With a Twist

Event: Time Based Architecture
Location: Center for Architecture, 10.19.09
Speaker: Hilary Sample, AIA — Principal, MOS
Organizer: AIANY Technology Committee
Sponsor: ABC Imaging


Afterparty, designed by MOS for this year’s MoMA/P.S. 1 Young Architects Program.

Jessica Sheridan

If you attended Warm-Up at P.S. 1 this summer, you lounged in the shade of furry, cone-like structures. The courtyard installation was designed by MoMA/P.S. I Young Architects Program winner MOS, a New Haven/Cambridge-based firm founded in 2003 by Michael Meredith, AIA, and Hilary Sample, AIA. Sample recently discussed the firm’s projects at the Center for Architecture.

Thanks to a wrong number, MOS was commissioned to build a family retreat on a small island in Lake Huron. Inspired by the vernacular architecture, the designers clad the home with cedar siding, creating both privacy and a rain screen. The simple box form is capped with a sloped, double layer wood roof. But the tradition ends there: the home floats on the water, supported by a system of pontoons. The Floating House adjusts to the ever-changing levels of the lake and absorbs energy from the water to keep the home warm or cool.

With a gently sloping roof and exterior walls clad in zinc panels, the Winters Studio blends with the countryside of upstate New York. However, the design brings a little of the city to the country: “It’s an expanded NYC loft typology,” Sample explained. A parallelogram in plan, the structure is stabilized by moment frames at each end to allow for open studio space divided by a central core. The roof is constructed of prefabricated wood trusses, and the ceiling is smoothed and rounded on the interior, reflecting the abundance of natural light that emanates from large windows at each end.

MOS was invited to design a house in the middle of the Mongolian desert as part of Ordos 100. For Lot 06 they designed a triangular courtyard house with a 10,000-square-foot footprint. As a passive cooling strategy in an extreme climate, they developed vertically extruded cone shapes to create a “solar chimney effect.” The cones’ construction is based on vernacular building methods: cast-in-place concrete covered with brick.

After entering — and losing — the MoMA/P.S. 1 Young Architects Program a couple of times, MOS finally won this year. They applied lessons learned from their Ordos design to turn the hot concrete courtyards of P.S. 1 into a comfortable, festive environment. The cone shapes made sense contextually, Sample stated, as they reference the surrounding factories in Long Island City. MOS intentionally limited the number of parts required to build the installation so it would be more affordable. The name Afterparty was also a commentary on the state of world at the time it was designed.

Sample describes MOS’s work as “time based architecture” because each project takes cues from its site and local construction methods, but is implemented with modern construction and technologies. MOS posts everything on its website even as projects are being developed, which is an effective way for the partners to communicate since they teach at Harvard and Yale Universities. For several projects, MOS produces “time based films” that speculate on how the spaces will be used, especially when they don’t know the client.

Aside from Sample and Meredith, MOS employs six staff including a programmer, art historian, an accountant-turned-architect, and a mathematician — self-described “state-of-the-art weirdoes.” Sample acknowledges that the extensive research work and the low-budget projects MOS often takes on present “a financially bad model. That’s why we teach full-time. But it’s rewarding.”