Sept. 16, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
Socrates Sculpture Park is working to bring in a permanent installation to the park—an office building.
The park, a hybrid public space/museum, was founded 30 years ago on an old landfill as a place for artists to display large-scale installations. However it has never had any permanent offices or indoor space for programming. Now the park has plans in place to build “The Cubes,” a multipurpose building made out of old shipping containers.
The park staff has been working out of rented offices across the street from the park since it opened, Executive Director John Hatfield explained to the Community Board 1 Parks committee on Tuesday, and he feels it is time for them to have something more permanent.
“We are beginning to expand beyond the infrastructure the park can really accommodate,” Hatfield said at the meeting, adding that the park draws about 150,000 visitors each year.
Designed by architecture firm LOT-EK, the proposed building will stick to the park’s mission of recycling and sustainability. It will be made using old shipping containers, and will have about 1,200 square feet of office space for park staff on the top floor, with about 690 square feet of indoor space for programming on the bottom floor, along with restrooms. It will also have a 480 square foot shaded deck area for outdoor programming.
“We are thrilled to create a new home that will expand our programmatic possibilities and secure our future as an arts organization in New York City,” Hatfield said in a statement. “LOT-EK’s design is an innovative contemporary work of architecture that conceptually and aesthetically reflects the Park’s history, connects to the Park today, and provides a platform for its future.”
The idea for the building came about when the Whitney Museum donated a freestanding “education studio” made from six shipping containers in 2014. The donated building was designed by LOT-EK, and the idea grew from there.
The ultimate design includes three cubes, one being the Whitney donation, connected to an outdoors space for programming. The building will also have solar panels on the roof, which will generate enough electricity to power the lighting and computers inside the building.
Hatfield explained that the indoor space is important because the park hosts programming for students throughout the year, but it can be made difficult by the seasonal changes. The park hosts about 10,000 youth annually, allowing kids to get outside and experience art firsthand at the park, but with no indoor space, those programs are at the mercy of weather, and as Hatfield pointed out, the school year tends to run during the harshest months of the year.
“With the installation of The Cubes, Socrates will be able to host year-round programming, reaching even more New Yorkers. We’re grateful for our partnership with Socrates Sculpture Park and look forward to growing and expanding this cultural gem on the waterfront,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver.
“The growth of Socrates Sculpture Park from an abandoned landfill and illegal dumpsite into one of New York City’s internationally recognized cultural destinations is a reflection on the great borough of Queens and our emphasis on supporting arts and culture at all levels,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. “The very fabric of this new building continues to tell the story of Socrates Sculpture Park and allows it to expand its story to educate and inspire. Art transforms lives and so we are proud to present great art and provide access to it here in Queens.”
The project went before the public design commission earlier this year, according to Hatfield, and passed with an unusual unanimous vote in favor of the project. The Community Board committee voted to send a letter in support of the project to the Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski to help further the process.