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  Blur Building  
  The Architecture of Nothing  
  Unpublished, written for TENbyTEN  



 

When approached to design an exhibition pavilion for Expo 2002 at the tip of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, the New York-based multidisciplinary studio Diller + Scofidio (now Diller Scofidio + Renfro) conceptualized a most unlikely solution: making nothing. According to an early napkin sketch, their contribution would be “formless, massless, colorless, weightless, odorless, scaleless, featureless, meaningless.” Early renderings envisioned a cloudlike mass suspended above the lake surface, though the architects preferred the term Blur as a moniker for the project, “as an alternative to the new orthodoxy of high definition,” according to Elizabeth Diller.

 



   
  Early rendering  



 

But of course a physical construction cannot literally be made of nothing, so the duo proposed over 20,000 high-pressure fog nozzles attached to a lightweight tensegrity structure (developed by R. Buckminster Fuller in the 1950s and loosely defined as a balance of compression and tension members) to create an enveloping mist. The football-field sized structure hovered 75’ above the water’s surface on four columns sitting on piles sunk deep beneath the water. Visitors reached the Blur Building via a 400’ long walkway after donning raincoats on shore. Once “inside” and shrouded in the fine, foggy mist they could continue upstairs to the Angel Bar, a break in the cloud serving a sampling of various spring, artesian, mineral, sparkling, and other bottled waters from around the world. In effect, one could take in the fabric of the building.

 



   
  Night view from shore  



 

The path to the realization of the Blur Building was anything but easy, full of crisis management among the various team members, underhanded contractors, and shady sponsors, all affecting the project’s scope and potential for success. The biggest disappointment for the architects was the omission of an integrated media installation: smart raincoats - “braincoats” – with embedded computer technology would respond to each other with glowing, colored lights, acting as a wayfinding aid in the fog and as a means of interacting with the expansive deck. As built, only a small strip of LED lights were mounted at about eye level on structural columns for safety. Although the braincoats weren’t part of the five-month Expo run, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio’s contribution was a resounding success, visited by over one million people. The Swiss press called it “a crazy, idiosyncratic thing! How deliciously without purpose!” Images of the cloud appeared on everything from sugar packets and chocolate bars to phone cards and lottery tickets, making it the most recognizable image of the Expo, an irony not lost on the architects.

 



   
  Inside the "cloud"  



 

The theoretically-grounded Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio embrace the open-ended interpretations made possible with their pavilion, though their favorite subject seems to be the weather. “When we speak about the weather, it is assumed that we are talking about nothing,” according to Diller, “but is not the weather, in fact, a potent topic of cultural exchange, a bond that cuts through social distinction and economic class, superseding geopolitical border?”

Far from nothing, what they designed and built is something thought-provoking that questions the physical and theoretical limits of architecture. More importantly Blur questions the difference between architecture and the environment; at Lake Neuchâtel Diller + Scofidio have managed to create both.

 
:: Text © John Hill
     
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