Between the Physical and the Temporal, the Shell and the Air/ Michael Morris and Yoshiko Sato Morris Sato Studio
The gap between past and future….is not a modern phenomenon, it is perhaps not even a historical datum but is coeval with the existence of man on earth. It may well be the region of the spirit or, rather, the path paved by thinking, this small track of nontime which the activity of thought beats within the time-space of mortal men and into the trains of thought, of remembrance and anticipation, save whatever they touch from the ruin of historical and biographical time. This small non-time space in the very heart of time, unlike the world and the culture which we are born, can only be indicated, but cannot be inherited and handed down from the past; each new generation, indeed every new human being as he inserts himself between an infinite past and an infinite future, must discover and ploddingly pave it anew.
Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future (1954)
LightShowers (2006+7) The Light Showers and DuPont TM Surfaces Booth is a collaborative and interactive traveling installation that draws upon explorations of light and water as sustainable and conceptual resources. Conceived in equal measures as lighting, video, form, and space the multimedia art and architecture work was hand and digital fabricated from a single material- Corian®. In its five 2007 international presentations (and counting) nearly 70,000 visitors have collectively and individually been invited to experience the work’s physical and temporal dimensions. Inspired by medical research in biofeedback in the Complimentary Care program at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, the installation was conceptually grounded by non-sectarian practices of meditation—where the mind and body are serially scanned for sensation and focused awareness. The modular booth was constructed to integrally house a constructed platform in which seven people can be positioned on seating. Occupying a “stone/egg” seat sensors correlate the visitors’ presence by activating delicate arrays of 100 gently pulsing blue light emitting diodes (LEDs) embedded/ hidden underneath the platform’s surface. The seven second programmed LED interval serves to synchronize the rhythm of human breath with the luminous video bath of the flowing tidal water to promote meditative states of repose and universal equanimity, and to foster an overall ambiance of well-being.
ICFF DuPont Surfaces Booth (2007)
Morris and Sato received the 2007 Editors Award for Best Booth and an Architectural Lighting Award from Architectural Lighting Magazine for LightShowers and the ICFF DuPont Surfaces Booth. The ICFF DuPont Booth extends and incorporates luminous and aquatic themes of LightShowers into a total multimedia environment. Demonstrating the possibilities for DuPont TM Corian® new Illumination Series, the translucent forms, shapes, and colors of the Booth’s design were inspired by studies of water in various states–from solid ice to liquid to vapor. As with LightShowers, the Booth’s design was equal parts lighting, space, material, merging art, architecture, and digital fabrication. The standardized translucent Corian® sheets were heated and vacuu-formed from a single CNC-routed mold. The tooled and sanded Corian® panels were structurally co-joined into an undulating wall surface punctured with viewing apertures and providing lumbar support for the perimeter seating within. Paper-thin phosphorous lighting and silica glass fiber optics parallel the innovative material and fabrication methods at once accentuating and dematerializing their dimensions and use unifying the overall temporal environment.
Physical and Temporal The architecture of Michael Morris and Yoshiko Sato of the New York City based Morris Sato Studio is filled with light and sound. In designing for a world, which is already full, Morris and Sato pursue definitions of beauty and utility as equally sustainable human amenities. Their multidisciplinary work explores scales and boundaries between architecture, urbanism, art, and design and has been built and exhibited in North America, Europe, and Asia. The experiences and spirit captured in their Studio’s diverse projects result not only from a refined use of materials and subtlety of form and color, but by infusion with a sense of awareness of the ephemeral and enduring aspects of time. These arguably temporal dualities of their projects embody an overall ambiance of wellbeing, unique to each place and specific assignment, refuting easy stylistic categorization. Critics have described their work as being neither traditional nor modern, but formally inventive and carefully composed, perhaps persuading us of evidence substantiating the existence of aura. Yoshiko Sato refers to their collaborative work as attempting to design the Air – the space between the user and the shell – and Michael Morris characterizes their persistent effort to articulate places between the physical and temporal realms. Together with their practice both are committed professors of architecture. In a recent essay on his studio teaching Morris referred to the space of nature (that we must increasingly see ourselves as a constituent), as not the constructed landscape from the 17th century but as an ‘econtone’, a term that describes in-between zones such as a wetland being both land and water. Morris describes the methodology for students’ drawings to be conceived as working within a ‘paperscape’, a dynamic state between paper and the heart and mind, pencil, and brush. Morris and Sato place great emphasis on the role of architects’ drawings and models. Representation is not conceived as a means to an end but as vital abstractions of a holistic process, thereby performing critical and autonomous visualizations for ideas and thought. The drawn abstraction serves the architects with the limitless capacity to infuse the concrete projections with time and breath. Negotiating between representation and more permanent type structures, Morris and Sato are widely known for their installations, exhibition designs, and collaborative work with artists on large-scale public projects. These temporal spaces have enabled the architect opportunities to experiment with new programs for space and materials, lighting, and cultural expression but also to draw out an animated life from the individual pieces and collections displayed. In their recent project ‘LightShowers’, a multimedia installation with video images by Paul Ryan, Sato and Morris were inspired by conversations with medical researchers at Columbia University’s Presbyterian Hospital, who are employing bio-feedback techniques to assist in the health and recovery of their patients. According to Sato and Morris the compelling research however failed to address the patients’ environment but in doing so helped inspire them to conceive of their LightShowers project as a contribution to the complementary care program. In LightShowers, grounded in non-sectarian meditation practices, where the mind and body are conditioned through focus on the breath to attain enlightened consciousness, Morris and Sato positioned seven visitors on a platform within a projection of video images of moving tidal water. A hidden sensor located within each seat set off an array of blue LED lights gently pulsing at a 7 second interval of the human beings’ breath at rest. In LightShowers, by creating an experiential space of repose Sato and Morris fundamentally demonstrate the infinite conditions between the biological and ‘sidereal’ rhythms in which we exist. For Morris and Sato the central thesis of their work is the syncopation between time and non-time space grounded in the poetics and craftsmanship of making. The reverence of nature in their work is rooted in their respective east/west backgrounds, from Japan and Ireland respectively, fused within the cosmopolitan setting of Manhattan. In the aftermath of 9/11 Sato contributed to articles and essays to several leading periodicals and journals. Comparing the exhaustive search for human remains from Ground Zero site to the devastating effects of the 1995 Kobe Earthquake, Sato articulated the psychology of hope in both tragedies as being synonymous with the presence and absence of the dirt of the ground. She described the perceptions of a Kobe resident that formerly viewed their house and land as property of some value but after the natural disaster became inspired to rebuild it as a place and a home. Awarded a semi-finalist in an invited competition, the collaborative project with artist Jody Pinto commemorates the tragedy of September 11 and the compassionate response of Hoboken, New Jersey’s community. The project draws equally upon physical and ephemeral dimensions supporting reflection and change made buoyant with wind, light, and sound, by balancing between loss and renewal. Announcing the memorial, nine “Light Vane” sentinels vertically ascend the southern edge of Pier A Park. These animated structures guide pedestrians toward the pier’s memorial point and seating, signaling safe harbor and a welcome at Hoboken’s shore. Balanced upon tapered steel poles gradating from 27’ to 32’, they are capped at a maximum height of 45’. The composite 22’ long steel and fiberglass oar-like pointers are supported on two-way hinge mechanisms, which allow the pointers to gyrate three-dimensionally, while locking movement during extreme weather conditions. Gently oscillating in the wind, the physically identical structures are subtly differentiated in movement, height, lighting, color, and sound. Moored at the south-eastern terminus, a ship inspired embankment of terraced timber seating provides a contemplative space. Orientated with a view towards the urban setting of the World Trade Center site and the ocean beyond, the tide of cedar steps and floating benches form an outdoor room for contemplative seating. Accessed via a stone ramp and walk, the names of Hoboken’s victims float in raised metal letters above a raked wooden mantle. Both viewer and the lost are joined in a collaboration of light and shadow, accompanied by the magnificent panorama of river, city, and sky. Morris and Sato consistently address the psychological dimensions through their projected and built work. Articulating subliminal zones, at intimate and immense scales of the human body and the environment, Morris and Sato do not particularly seek to determine boundaries between interior and exterior spaces, the body and the mind, but strive to choreograph and suspend the time of day and the utility. Their ambient approach to architecture is perhaps similar to a garden designer’s approach where the whole is conceived as a life cycle inclusive of the color and seasonal changes.
Shell and Air The Midtown Manhattan 600 square foot ‘pied-a-terre’ exemplifies Morris and Sato’s concept of an interior landscape. The apartment, which is surrounded by windows but with no real views, was dynamically unified through focal planing of the sculptural ceiling. Part urban archeology, Morris and Sato ‘mined the ceiling’, avoiding the unsightly pipes, to expose the structural slab and beams and added to the sense of space. This was achieved by integrating the program elements while simultaneously ‘obliterating’ the dimensions of the apartment by emphasizing light, color, form, and structure. An inverted 1000 layered hand plastered chandelier “egg” softly reflects light onto the dining table. This positive feature acts in counterpoint to the curving recessed cove and concave wall that define the living space. A customized moonlight table throws light back onto the raked ceiling. The green lawn of carpet dynamically draws out the linear length of the space conjoining the living and sleeping areas. Dualities are elaborated by the articulation and detailing of materials, both ‘measurable and ephemeral’, in intimate and expansive scales abstractly referenced and borrowed from the urban and cosmic landscapes beyond. On Shelter Island, off the coast of New York’s Long Island’s eastern edge, Morris and Sato are currently constructing two unique and adjacent sustainable designed homes. The houses with views of the water to the north are situated between interior and exterior swimming pools to the south. Soula House is sited ‘between the earth and sky’. The program of the house is organized and expressed within the site by the inner and outer dimensions of its curving volume. Emerging from the ground in the east, the concave side embraces the sun while the convex side protects it from the Atlantic’s northern winds. Entry to the house is through a court of protruding and detached forms detailed in response to the available views from the interior spaces and exterior terraces to the water. A central (chimney) tower orientates the house north–south while attenuating and anchoring the overall spatial reading within the site’s sloping gradient. The proportions, systems, and materiality of the house promote an environmental balance. Passive solar shading and ventilation augment the geothermal heating and cooling. The green roof, cedar shake, and shingled volumes serve to support and merge with the local ecology. YN-13 House is conceived as a floating mass. Its monolithic expression and rendered dimensions negotiate alternating states in defining the house’s presence and ‘absence’ within the site. The cut of its pitched roof and symmetrically protruding corners underscore the primary views into the landscape along the south-east/north-west axis. Reducing the number of interior partitions on the first level allows for an uninterrupted flow of space and program elements while expansive glazing connects it to exterior spaces and the landscape beyond. The upper volume bedroom spaces are strategically punctuated by a series of openings for light and air while an interior spatial void tower connects the floors, thereby allowing air to flow internally and via the adjacent chimney volume externally. The programmed volumes’ weathered metal standing seams join the vertical battens of cedar siding in unifying the textures of wall and roof. The single-storied guest wing and garage volumes help define a private exterior space for the swimming pool and lawn.
End Note Yoshiko Sato and Michael Morris have been partners in the Morris Sato Studio in New York City since 1996. They are recipients of numerous professional awards including the Young Architects Award from the Architectural League of New York (1993), a Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts (1994), the Michael Kalil Fellowship for Smart Sustainable Design (2004), and the invited to participate in the Architectural League’s New York Designs (2005) lecture series. In 2003, Morris and Sato were selected as semi-finalists in collaboration with artist Jody Pinto for the September 11 Memorial Competition in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 2002, the Morris Sato Studio received the Home of the Year Award from Architecture magazine for the “Winter House”, Falls Village, Connecticut. In 1998, they were awarded Best Exhibition Design First Prize from The International Association of Art Critics for 199798 and a Design Distinction from ID magazine for their installation for “Shiro Kuramata 1934-1991” in New York and Montreal. Recently completed projects include the permanent exhibition and archives for the American Express Company at the World Financial Center Lobby in New York City and the international presentations of their multiple award winning LightShowers multimedia installation and at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York representing the DuPont Corporation. Current work, in addition to multiple national projects for DuPont Corporation are residential and commercial commissions in New York City includes: the Soula House YN-13 Health House, both sustainable designed residences on Shelter Island, New York complete with interior and furniture; a beach house in Amagansett, NY; the phased renovation of New York City’s Vineyard Theatre, an award winning 300 seat Off-Broadway Playhouse; and a suite of new bathroom fixtures for the Japanese-based manufacturer TOTO; and a light fixture for the US-based Ivalo Lighting.