N.Y.C.’s Next Great Cultural Destination: A Wild Shape-Shifting Building

The Shed takes “multipurpose room” to the next level.

Like many of the experimental architects in the 1960s, Cedric Price had ideas so radical that they were destined to the confines of sketchbook pages and treatises. One such proposal is the “Fun Palace,” a shape-shifting theater that reconfigures itself based on real-time data it collects on the preferences of people flowing thorough the space. To Price, the structure’s metamorphic character embodied a democratic ideal: buildings should adapt for people; people shouldn’t conform to buildings.


Fast-forward 50 years to the Shed, a nonprofit cultural venue that is currently under construction in Hudson Yards, the 17-million-square-foot development on Manhattan’s West Side. The organization commissioned architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group to design the building, and they took a page from Price’s playbook and conceived of a structure that achieves the Fun Palace’s aim–a destination that can house whatever its users desire, whether that’s a theatrical production, a gallery exhibition, a concert, a fashion show, or whatever harebrained scheme artists of the future concoct.

“Like its predecessor, our building is envisioned as open infrastructure that is versatile and responsive to the ever-changing demands of artistic endeavors in size, media, and technological complexity,” the architects state in a release.

While renderings for the Shed–which was formerly called the Culture Shed–have circulated for a couple of years, a new animated video shows how the architects will construct a building whose only constant is that it is always in flux.

A mechanized 120-foot-tall telescoping roof set on a bogie–a type of chassis usually found on railroads–extends from the main structure to enclose part of the 20,000-square-foot public plaza adjacent to the building. Movable walls that raise up like garage doors and slide open allow the building to essentially become one big Tetris puzzle in which the users can slot in stadium seating for up to 1,250 people–or leave open for a standing audience of 3,000. The building can transform to hold one huge event or enclose select spaces to host multiple things simultaneously. The architects are adapting gantry crane technology–which is usually found in the shipping industry–to help the structure become nimble.

By delving into history and adapting present-day technology, Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group have created the destination of the future–a fitting contribution to New York’s already robust cultural offerings. Let’s just hope the building’s mechanics and operators can keep the kinetic design shipshape after its scheduled completion in 2019.


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.