By melding architecture and environment, Lindy Roy finds fertile ground in the most forbidding places.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 11/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Last summer, Lindy Roy orchestrated an installation at the P.S.1 museum in Long Island City, New York, involving 42 oscillating fans, three oversized kiddie pools, a smattering of water bottles shaped like IVs, and a circuit of hoses to deliver a refreshing, rain-like mist. Even while creating a cool refuge from the sultry summer weather, Roy's career continued to heat up. Seems the climate is just right for Roy, a native of South Africa, who is quickly amassing critical kudos and plum commissions.
Based on the unconventional projects Roy had completed since founding her New York-based firm in 2000, she was one of 25 designers selected to compete in this year's MoMA/P.S.1 Young Architects Program. Nominees proposed schemes to convert P.S.1's outdoor courtyard into a temporary "paradise island," a hip backdrop to the museum's live music series. Roy's winning design, dubbed subWave, actually grew from a misinterpretation of the theme. "I got confused. I thought they meant Fantasy Island," laughs Roy, who deliberately avoided "cuteness" in favor of a hyper-urban, even gritty space that introduced "essential elements of spartan luxury and comfort into an extreme urban environment—the hot concrete courtyard." In addition to an array of "cooling effects" (the aforementioned pools, fans, and mists), Roy installed two-story- high images of breaking waves, cylindrical tents of iridescent pink scrim that billowed in the breeze like giant soap bubbles, and 12 rotating sunbeds fashioned from nylon netting stretched taut across wheeled metal frames.
The notion of the "extreme environment" is central to Roy's recent work, which includes a spa in the Botswana wetlands under the ominous surveillance of hungry predators; an "extreme ski hotel" for world-class competitors and "adrenaline junkies" in the forbidding Alaskan wilderness; and an environmental-reclamation project (in collaboration with photographer Richard Misrach) on a toxic stretch of the Mississippi River—all in various stages of development. Roy's designs don't just respond to their extreme natural contexts but actively incorporate nature into their very structure. The spa, for instance, has a shell-like silhouette that spirals into the wetlands, offering protection from the elements while still allowing visitors to "indulge in the natural environment." For a private residence being designed for the Houses at Sagaponac, a single-home development in Long Island under the creative direction of Richard Meier, Roy "pushes" an outdoor pool into and through the house to create a three-story indoor waterfall. This studied confluence of the built and natural environments culminates in the P.S.1 installation. Her strategy, she claims, "was a bit of a bush-camp sensibility;" rather than plunk a hermetic oasis into the rough and gritty gravel courtyard, she dispersed "an infrastructure of wind and water" throughout. "When you are operating in a wild environment, you need to distribute resources such as food and water so that activities can concentrate around them," she explains. In subWave, Roy not only harnesses natural resources but also actively shapes them—creating a man-made microclimate within the walled courtyard.
Whereas Roy's major commissions to date are set in remote, isolated locations accessible only to an elite few, subWave marks a shift to more visible, public projects. Vitra recently added Roy to its long line of venerable collaborators, selecting her to design the company's new showroom in an industrial, turn-of-the-century space in Manhattan's meatpacking district. "We were impressed by Lindy's sensual modernism and her ingenious spatial solutions," says Andrew Goetz, Vitra's U.S. director of marketing. "She also shares a strong ecological ethic with the company." Nearby, Roy is designing a bar/lounge in a defunct meatpacking facility. "We're trying to find a way to rework the site's infrastructure into a completely different program," she says. Moveable red leather chaises and boomerang-shaped cast-resin tables will be suspended from the original ceiling-mounted track and switch system, creating a dynamic and changeable layout. The scheme honors the historic character of both the building and the neighborhood with a nod to its meat-market (and sex-club) past. Both spaces are slated for completion next year.
With so many projects coming to fruition in such a short time span, one might assume that Roy's professional ascent has been brief and painless. "It's a nice illusion," she laughs, but is quick to clarify that she held a series of freelance jobs at a number of architectural firms in the decade prior to founding her practice. The highlight was a formative two-year stint at Peter Eisenman's studio, an experience she credits with preparing her to run her own show. "We were always operating on the edge of deadlines and resources, with very high expectations. It was an incredible model of what discipline, focus, and energy it takes to operate a business." Just the sort of extreme environment that Roy excels in.