"A work in progress"

The enormous interior volume of the McCourt space make humans look small. Photo: Emily Mason
Designed with the emphasis on flexibility, the Shed at Hudson Yards is a shape-shifting arts complex intended to meet the ever-changing demands of contemporary — and future — artists from all disciplines
By Emily Mason

Construction was still rumbling along last Wednesday as Hudson Yards’ newest attraction, the Shed, made its debut. Workers were installing the last section of escalator inside the main building as the press got its first look at the $500 million arts complex.

The dream of its creators is that the Shed will fulfill the two goals laid out by Michael Bloomberg at the onset of the project in 2013: that it be an artistic Mecca to keep New York City at the cutting edge of culture, and that it be different from anything else in the city. The Shed’s board answered this call by putting flexibility at the core of their project.

Chairman and President of the Shed, Daniel L. Doctoroff, explained the rationale behind this design priority.

“We kept hearing similar things from everybody, which is that in this era of the internet which gives people the capacity to communicate and collaborate, the cultural ecosystem was beginning to shift,” Doctoroff said. “Artists were producing work that didn’t fit into traditional institutions. And out of that idea was the notion of extreme flexibility and adaptability.”

The Magic of the McCourt

One of the building’s architects, Elizabeth Diller, discussed how the design was created to embody this ideal of flexibility. The main building contains a theater, galleries, and an impressive top floor with skylights and a large dance floor offering a view of Hudson Yards’ other main attraction, the Vessel. But it is the McCourt that is the most versatile space in the design.

The McCourt is created when the large latticed-steel and plastic polymer shell that surrounds the eight-floor main building is rolled back on its six giant wheels. This forms an enormous, adaptable space with moveable walls and seemingly unlimited possible combinations of seating, staging and lighting, allowing artists to use the space in a variety of ways.

At the press preview, the expansive venue of the McCourt smelled of the fresh wood used to construct the tiered levels for attendees. It felt a little chilly, as well, after the warmth of the well-heated main building. And one could see the grooves on the interior of the walls which allow them to morph and change the shape of the space.

“This is a perpetual work in progress, always getting smarter, always more agile,” Diller said. “This building will respond in real time to the challenges brought to it by artists, and hopefully it will challenge artists back.”

The other motivation for creating a space that can adapt to different types of installations is to ensure that the Shed will be able to stand the test of time as art continues to evolve.

With the Future in Mind

“We don’t know what art is going to be or what artists are going to produce in two years, or ten years, or 100 years,” Doctoroff said. “We want to be able to accommodate artists, but also to inspire artists to do things they otherwise might not be able to do.”

Alex Poots, the founding chief and artistic director of the Shed discussed some of the opening events, which feature an eclectic mix of works including a five-day African American concert series, a concert by Bjork, and even a kung fu musical from the screenwriters of Kung Fu Panda that features songs by Sia.

“This shows the range of artistry that is welcome and that can be present at the Shed,” Poots said.