First Look: Getting to Know the Finalists of the 2015 MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program

We ask the five finalists about their work, their inspirations, and their plans for MoMA PS1’s courtyard.

Courtesy Hansmeyer:Dillenburger

For architects just starting their careers, MoMA PS1’s small courtyard in Long Island City is the most valuable real estate around. Every year the museum’s Young Architects Program (YAP) selects an up-and-coming architect to build a summer pavilion in its backyard.

Past designs have ranged from SHoP Architect’s parametric wooden shelter and water pool to last year’s tower of zero-carbon bricks by the Living. With major institutional backers like MoMA, the competition can thrust a young practice onto the center stage of the art and architecture world. The built pavilion must provide nominal shelter and incorporate a water feature—ostensibly to cool down concertgoers to MoMA PS1’s summer Warm Up series—but the winners can experiment with a marked range of ideas and forms.

From earthen amphitheaters to complex algorithmic 3-D prints, the repertoires of this year’s finalists demonstrate a diverse array of design philosophies. We’ve asked the finalists what inspires them, what past pavilions they’re studying, and what they aim to explore in their forthcoming proposals.

 Andrés Jaque
Erin Besler
Brillhart Architecture
Studio Benjamin Dillenburger

Update: Andrés Jaque was named the winner of this year’s YAP competition. The five finalists’ designs will be displayed in an exhibition at MoMA in the summer.

Office for Political Innovation (Andrés Jaque)
Madrid/New York

Madrid and New York-based Office for Political Innovation, Andrés Jaque at center

All photos courtesy Andrés Jaque/Office for Political Innovation

Update: Andrés Jaque was named the winner of this year’s YAP competition. The five finalists’ designs will be displayed in an exhibition at MoMA in the summer.

What led to the founding of your firm?

When I finished my training in the ETSAM, I was awarded with the Tessenow Stipendiat by the Alfred Toepfer Stiftung in Hamburg. It took me to Berlin, where I could study in detail how architecture related to the great European transformation that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall. It made me realize how intensively the potential of architecture has moved to different grounds and I was eager to explore that. So I started taking part in open competitions and won several right away. The Plasencia Clergy House was one of them and it needed to be built pretty quickly, so I formalized my office and it all started. We’ve never lacked commissions or projects since.

Where are you based?

My office is based in New York and Madrid, with workspaces in both cities. It’s actually the interaction of two spatial traditions that I’m interested in: the American and the European. Both locations can be seen as Amazonia of architectural interaction.

What’s your biggest inspiration? 

Daily life. My practice can be interpreted as a celebration of daily life and its complexity. I am not interested in isolated beings, but how a great number of them relate to each other, and how that can constitute a milieu that’s worth living in.

Are you looking for any insight from past MoMA PS1 YAP winners or runners-up? Or do you simply have a favorite?

I think the MoMA PS1 YAP has succeeded in prompting new practices and gaining a broad and diverse massive audience. This is really something beyond the individual achievements that the different designs have accumulated. That capital is what I am interested in and is where my team and I find inspiration.

Are there issues you’re planning to explore for you MoMA PS1 YAP proposal?

I am exploring the social role of icons, and what could be a relevant way to work with them. This has become a big part of our work in the last few years, and that’s what I would now like to take further now.

Never Never Land House (2009)

Escaravox (2012)

Diocesan Clergy House in Plasencia (2004)

Erin Besler
​Los Angeles

Courtesy Erin Besler

What led to the founding of your firm or practice? Where are you based?

I’m pretty certain that, up to this point in my career, I haven’t yet founded a “firm.” Perhaps, I have a “soft” or a “not-so-firm” at the moment, which has been really productive. I’m currently faculty at the University of California Los Angeles in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design, and during my teaching fellowship last year I developed a number of ongoing projects with students. So my work is somehow caught between multiple sites of production—between UCLA where I teach, and downtown Los Angeles where my office is. Los Angeles is a unique and oftentimes unclear place to be. There’s no overarching model or set method for a young architect to practice in. This can, of course, be destabilizing and also really promising.

What’s your biggest inspiration? 

I work through references and reuse things that are already in circulation—things that I find interesting—and I try to put them to work or refit them into a slightly different framework. Sometimes those references are really clear in my work, sometimes they’re not. Recently, I’ve been really interested in corners, and so I have been looking at projects, artists, and architects that have worked within or around the corner as a particular problem.

Are you looking for any insight from past MoMA PS1 YAP winners or runners-up? Or do you simply have a favorite?

I don’t play favorites, but I have been looking at the history of MoMA PS1 as an institution to provide some reference. I think the idea of a residency program for an architecture installation is interesting. The first PS1 also provided space for works of art to occupy the rooms in the old public school building.

Are there issues you’re planning to explore for you MoMA PS1 YAP proposal? 

For me, the gap between the discipline of architecture and the practice of architecture is a really significant space to work in, and so the proposal will be situated that way. I’m interested in working on things that have been relegated to practice, such as everyday aspects of construction and standardization, and trying to “make them fit” into a conceptual and disciplinary framework. In addition to “making fit,” the proposal will also deal with the idea of “zero waste.”

“Low Fidelity,”graduate thesis at SCI-Arc

Courtesy Erin Besler

“The Entire Situation,” UCLA A.UD Fellowship Project (2014)

Courtesy Elon Schoenholz

“The Entire Situation”

Courtesy Joshua White


Brillhart Architecture (Jacob Brillhart)

Jacob Brillhart in Brillhart Architecture’s Miami office

Photos courtesy Brillhart Architecture, unless otherwise noted

What led to the founding of your firm? Where are you based?

I liked making things from a very early age. I’m from New Hampshire, and my father (a structural engineer) and I would spend hours buildings forts in the woods or furniture in his workshop. As a kid, I learned how to actually build things and I developed a propensity for figuring things out.

When I went to Tulane for undergraduate school (I was in the liberal arts), my friend was in the architecture program and I went to visit him one day. As soon as I got there, I thought, this is it? Designing things and making models? This is great. I fell in love with architecture right away. I also had a great professor there, Errol Barron, who seemed to have a good gig—balancing teaching with practice – and it was then that I decided that I wanted to do the same. After undergraduate school, I left for New York, working for a large construction firm for six years. I returned to work in New Orleans for a couple of years, while I applied to graduate school.

In 2004, shortly after I got my Masters from Columbia, I came to Miami because my sister and her husband were here. I started teaching at the University of Miami and also joined up with a small architecture firm, eventually opening Brillhart Architecture in 2006.

I met my wife, Melissa Brillhart, here in Miami (she earned her Masters in Architecture at the University of Miami in 2010). She joined the firm in January 2013. Andrew worked with us part-time beginning the summer of 2013, and joined us officially in May of this year.

What’s your biggest inspiration? 

It’s impossible to limit this to just one person or building. I think the memories of our childhoods come first. Being from New Hampshire, the Shakers’ hands-on, inventive culture and philosophy of designing/building/living certainly indirectly influenced my approach to design. Growing up in South Carolina, Melissa was inspired by the latent beauty of the old barn and house on her grandmother’s farm, as well as abandoned cotton mills and factories, and the blighted but historic buildings in the west end of downtown Greenville (which is much different now). Our parents were pivotal in teaching us to see the beauty in the bones of things, and so I think this is why we both share a love for structure and materials.

In addition, my sister and mother are both artists, and shared their interest in drawing with me. As I grew up, I was introduced to the paintings of Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, JW Turner, and Whistler. At Tulane, I was confronted with architectural drawings and was amazed by what those drawings could do and how beautiful they were at the same time.

After graduating from Columbia, I set out on a series of travel drawing tours, using Le Corbusier’s sketchbooks as my sole travel guides. Retracing his steps through Europe and the East, I made drawings from the places Le Corbusier stood some ninety years earlier. Since then, I’ve made hundreds of paintings, sketches, and notes of architectural details, buildings, cityscapes, art, and culture. As a result, travel drawing remains a source of inspiration for me and the office.

Subsequently, I am interested in the marriage between art and architecture. Le Corbusier himself is enormously inspiring not only in terms of his exhaustive creative search, but also in his ability to get to the crux of an idea. I love Donald Judd’s work and it’s also impossible not to get lost in the quiet beauty of Peter Zumthor’s buildings. His works are as much art as they are masteries of construction. His assemblies, simple forms, and atmospheric qualities also seem to echo the paintings of Hopper, Turner, and Whistler.

Are you looking for any insight from past MoMA PS1 YAP winners or runners-up? Or do you simply have a favorite?

All are exceptional—winners and runners-up alike. Some projects engage areas of research that more closely parallel ours, but each provides inventive solutions to the program.

Are there issues you’re planning to explore for you MoMA PS1 YAP proposal? 

The main objective is to develop an urban landscape that integrates shade, water and seating for the Warm Up music series. How we do that is to be determined. We are looking forward to the site visit so that we can fully absorb the site and surrounding context. Once we do that, we can provide a more meaningful answer.

Brillhart House (2014)

JugoFresh Mixed Use Building (ongoing)

Vertebrae Chair (ongoing)

Courtesy Julian Martin/Lemon Yellow

The ​Bittertang Farm (Michael Loverich)
New York

Bittertang principals Antonio Torres (left), Michael Loverich (right)

Photos courtesy Bittertang, unless otherwise noted

What led to the founding of your firm? Where are you based?

We have two locations, one in New York City and the other is a small farm in the countryside of Michoacan, Mexico.We met at an open house for UCLA when we were deciding between graduate schools. I think we both had mullets at the time which was probably the thing that brought us together. We both ended up going to UCLA and as luck would have it we worked on the first project together and the rest is history. Our hair couldn’t be more different these days but we’ve got a lot of history and an interest in creating pleasurable constructs.

What’s your biggest inspiration?

Inspiration comes from anywhere, I was making a dutch baby (a cross between a soufflé and a pancake, I highly recommend making one) this morning and had an idea about a new project, but I think paintings especially paintings from before 1865 have some of the biggest impact upon our work. Building wise, probably the Pantheon during a rain storm.

Are you looking for any insight from past MoMA PS1 YAP winners or runners-up? Or do you simply have a favorite?

Well we do have some favorites, FAKE Industries submission from last year and since many years ago Mikey worked on the submission ‘Purple Haze’ by Gnuform (Heather Roberge and Jason Payne) that one is still dear to us as well as Narchitects proposal.

Are there issues you’re planning to explore for you MoMA PS1 YAP proposal? 

It’s pretty early on in the process and we want it to be a surprise but I guess we can say don’t be afraid to bring your babies next summer! It might be a party but babies are always welcome.

Buru Buru amphitheater (2014)

Burble Bup: City of Dreams Pavilion (2011)

Courtesy Anna Ritsch

Gelatinous Armada project (2009)

Studio Benjamin Dillenburger

Architect Benjamin Dillenburger

Courtesy Benjamin Dillenburger

What led to the founding of your firm? Where are you based?

I am based in Toronto, Canada, where I work as a practicing architect and as an assistant professor at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. I often collaborate with Michael Hansmeyer, who is also part of the competition team.

What’s your biggest inspiration? 

My academic research and practice strongly benefit from each other. My research focus is computational design, and the interplay of architecture and information technology. I feel we’re living in exiting times: information technology is evolving at a dramatic pace, and it already offers us an enormous potential for design and fabrication of architecture.

Beyond that, I derive much inspiration from exchange and collaboration with other architects and artists.

Are you looking for any insight from past MoMA PS1 YAP winners or runners-up? Or do you simply have a favorite?

The MoMa PS1 YAP has had many impressive projects – not only the winning projects but also the runners-up. One inspiring aspect about this competition is the diversity of the results, which show that almost anything is possible. Though I haven’t experienced all of the entries on site, I like the projects that irritate, surprise, excite, and reflect the zeitgeist in a critical way.

Are there issues you’re planning to explore for you MoMA PS1 YAP proposal? 

Architecture should be both an intellectual and a phenomenological enterprise. As such, it needs to address not only the mind, but also all the senses – viscerally.  Architecture should be worth approaching, it should attract people, make them curious, make them want to discover it. Architecture is not a fixed substance but it is an object in time, an event, a composite of infinitely many occasions of experience. Particularly for the PS1 YAP, architecture must become both stage and event.

Prototype for Digital Grotesque (2013)

Courtesy Hansmeyer:Dillenburger

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