The Architectural Installation: Diller and Scofidio, 1979-89

Whitney Moon 1
1University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, CA, USA, 2University of San Diego (USD), San Diego, CA, USA


Architecture began to enter the gallery space in the late 1970s, where, according to architectural historian Beatriz Colomina, it was understood as an exhibitable medium. Beginning in 1976 with “Idea as Model”, an exhibition of architectural models at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York, architecture was reconsidered as an artistic practice extending beyond buildings proper. New York galleries, ranging from Leo Castelli to Max Protech, were quick to catch on to the emergent trend, displaying original architectural drawings as “art.” Although New York based architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio were not the only architects participating in the art scene, they distinguished themselves by constructing actual architectural space in the form of architectural installations. As an alternative to generating purely paper architecture (theoretical writing or conceptual drawings) and/or scaled representations of space (drawings and scaled models), Diller and Scofidio were committed to testing out ideas through small-scale building experiments. Focusing on the first five installations created during the first decade of their practice (1979-89), this paper examines how Diller and Scofidio explored ‘installation’ as a strategy to redefine architecture. I argue that the architectural installation is a form of experimental architecture Diller and Scofidio deployed in the 1980s as an alternative to the predominant postwar architectural styles of late modernism and postmodernism. Blurring the line between viewing subject and object, these installations, for which little has been written, offered a radical counterpoint to the static permanence of building, releasing architecture to perform in temporary and/or event-based environments. Often collaborative in nature, Diller and Scofidio’s installations rejected architectural autonomy, placing not only the human body but also social and cultural issues at the forefront of their practice. It is precisely through these architectural installations that one can better understand the legacy of post-modernity as a cultural condition.