May 20, 2019
Two Brooklyn Designers Craft a Surreal House for the Heart of Times Square
Fernando Mastrangelo Studio and Brook Landscape collaborated on a tiny house that combines unusual materials, lush landscaping, and an eco-friendly message to visitors.
Inside the TINY HOUSE at Times Square Design Pavilion, the din of New York City’s brightest and loudest intersection fades to a dull roar. Outside, the house is a simple box. Four walls and a pitched roof stand atop a gently sloping hill planted with lavender, willow trees, birches, and a dwarf white pine. A wood-planked path leads you off the sidewalk, up the hill, and into the house, which features gray-to-black ombré walls that recall a panorama of rolling hills.
But the green aspects of the project, a collaboration between Fernando Mastrangelo Studio (FM/S) and Brook Landscape, don’t end with the plantings. The tiny home’s walls are cast with recycled plastic through a process perfected by FM/S. And inside, the space features recycled plastic that’s been dyed electric blue and cast into a foamy, undulating texture. A circular door in the rear frames a courtyard planted like a tropical garden. There, walls are made of black sand with a texture that evokes volcanic rock or cave walls. Tropical plantings from Brook Klausing, the CEO and creative director of Brooklyn–based Brook Landscape, provide splashes of vivid green and pink. The result is both tranquil and otherworldly.
Curating a peaceful and surreal experience was important, but only a means to a nobler end. “We wanted to use this moment to have people engage with the ideas and concepts of sustainability through a fun and fantastical experience,” says Mastrangelo. At his sprawling studio in East New York, the designer produces sculpture, furniture, and other design objects by casting crushed recycled materials such as glass, sand, and plastic. Climate change has been a theme of his work for years, as many of his designs aim to evoke changing landscapes. The TINY HOUSE project was an opportunity to take a symbol of sustainability—the low-consumption tiny house—and turn it into an attention-grabbing work of art.
Admittedly, for any designer or architect who is concerned about the environment, there is a tension between resource conservation and production. By scaling down and prioritizing recycled materials, Mastrangelo and Klausing are trying to navigate that contradiction. “Even as a landscaper,” Klausing says, “the very best we can do is to try to do something that will last and that will not over-consume.” For the TINY HOUSE, at least, all of the plantings are destined for future Brook Landscape projects. FM/S’s castings can be ground up and cast as something completely new.
There’s a double-edged quality to creating such a eye-catching design in the midst of Times Square’s flashy consumerism. Popular culture’s obsession with the new, and disregard for the waste that results, is taking its toll on the natural world, says Klausing. Still, the opportunity to bring a dose of art and greenery to a space defined by its artificiality and consumption was worth it. “Times Square is iconic, a design fair in New York is iconic in a pretentious way, this is iconic in a public way.”
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