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Competition: City of Dreams Pavilion, New York

An open international contest has been launched for a pop-up pavilion on Governors Island in New York City (Deadline: 30 September)

Open to individuals and teams of architects and non-architects – the two-stage competition seeks net-zero proposals for a new temporary gathering space on the prominent 70 hectare island overlooking Manhattan which opened to the public in 2004 after centuries as a military base.

The call for submissions is the seventh to be held for the annual commission which aims to create a focus for the island’s summer art programme. Proposals must carefully consider materials, construction efficiency and environmental impact.

The 2015 winning pavilion by Izaskun Chinchilla Architects

The 2015 winning pavilion by Izaskun Chinchilla Architects

The 2015 winning pavilion by Izaskun Chinchilla Architects

According to the brief: ‘The City of Dreams Pavilion will be a gathering place for people to meet, learn about the arts programs on the island, enjoy a performance or lecture, and experience the interaction of art and the historic context of Governors Island.

‘In the end, the goal is to create a pavilion that has a net zero impact and that serves as a prototype for a new, truly sustainable, way of thinking about design and construction.’

Located less than 1km from the southern tip of Manhattan, Governors Island was originally home to the city’s royal governors during the British colonial era but later became a military base.

Since 2004, the landmark island – which features 52 historic buildings, a public park and a national monument – has been open to the public every year between May and September. This year’s pavilion is planned to be constructed on the South Parade Grounds close to the island’s oldest structure, Fort Jay.

Previous winners include London-based Izaskun Chinchilla Architects – whose 2015 installation featured flower structures constructed from broken umbrellas and bicycle wheels (pictured) – and Team Aesop from New York which delivered last year’s pavilion.

Governors Island, New York

Governors Island, New York

Source: Image by Ted Quackenbush

Governors Island, New York

Proposals for the latest installation should provide shelter from the sun and rain and a gathering space for 50 or more people with a small stage or performance area. Submissions should carefully consider the past and future life cycle of all materials which may need to be transported to site by ferry.

Schemes must be freestanding with minimal foundations and will need approval from local agencies. The winning team will construct their scheme between March and June next year. A public opening will be held on 8 June and the pavilion will be taken down at the end of August.

The project is supported by FIGMENT in partnership with the Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA) of the American Institute of Architects NY Chapter (AIANY) and the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY).

Judges include Diller Scofidio + Renfro partner Benjamin Gilmartin, the artist Risa Puno and Jorge Otero-Pailos, director and professor of historic preservation at Columbia University.

Several finalists – due to be announced mid-October – will be invited to further develop their ideas in response to feedback from the jury ahead of the announcement of a winner on 30 November.

How to apply


The deadline for submissions is 11:59pm local time (ET) on 30 September


The registration fee for students is $40
The registration fee for professionals is $90
The registration fee for groups is $140

Contact details


Visit the competition website for more information

Cast & Place case study: Q&A with Team Aesop

The winners of last year’s contest – Josh Draper from PrePost; Lisa Ramsburg, Powell Draper and Alexandra Cheng from schlaich bergermann partner; Edward M. Segal from Hofstra University; Max Dowd from Grimshaw Architects; artist Scot W. Thompson; and Bruce Lindsay, sculptor – discuss their experience

How did your Cast & Place project deliver an appropriate installation for Governors Island?

The City of Dreams competition asked for a sustainable design solution that promotes innovative thinking. We came up with a new approach to use and transform waste materials. We harnessed the natural process of clay drying and cracking to define the mould for our panels. We chose to cast aluminium into the moulds because it is an infinitely recyclable, strong material that is ubiquitous in our daily lives. The resulting form of the panels subtly reminds us of the changing nature of materials over time and our relationships to these materials. We also happen to think the pavilion is a beautiful, if temporary, addition to one of New York City’s most unique and most beautiful sites.

We tied in the material investigations of the project to the site and the city. While looking at waste as a kind of material rich in potential, we found that the Governors Island itself i s 70% composed of dredge and fill. Moreover, many parts of New York City are built up from soil and dredge. This lead us to look at earth itself as key material that linked the project to the city, connecting across scales. We found that clay rich soil has a fascinating history in the city. It is found throughout the city, its riverbeds and in Governors Island itself. This prompted to see what would be possible with clay. If we’ve succeeded in making connections in the project and generating conversations about different scales, histories and materials that link the city to questions of a sustainable future, then we’ve produced something appropriate.

2016 winner: Cast & Place by Team Aesop

2016 winner: Cast & Place by Team Aesop

2016 winner: Cast & Place by Team Aesop

Which architectural, material, artistic and other methods did you harness in your design?

From the outset, the project integrated design, research, engineering, and fabrication. Drawing on the expertise and creative style of all these different fields, we went through extensive design iterations with sketches, models, and renderings. The project also required a lot of materials research and structural analysis. The process of melting and casting balanced expertise with the open-minded development of new techniques. Perhaps the most important method was ongoing open lines of communication among the architects, engineers, artists, and fabricators on the team. During the second phase of the competition we made a prototype casting in Josh’s backyard with a small electric furnace, a baking pan, and clay that we dried in an oven. When we teamed up with Scot and Bruce, they used their years of casting experience to help us develop a new experimental method to solve the problems we saw in the prototype. We fabricated metal trays that were reused for the entire casting process. At Scot’s studio at the Grounds for Sculpture, we perfected a method of drying the clay, transferring it to the metal trays, sandwiching it between fireproof sheetrock and locking it together with high temperature mortar and steel banding straps. The creation of oversized vents, coupled with high head pressure while pouring at a steep downhill angle, allowed steam from the clay to escape the mold and the molten aluminum to flow into the crack pattern. The whole process was an adventure and we were learning things everyday.

A project like this really needs to embrace and leverage an interdisciplinary team both in concept and method. For example, making an aluminium panel cast in cracked clay has architectural interest for providing shade, exposing methods of production and as a kind of material-generated ornament. But it’s also compelling for our team’s engineers who looked at it structurally and took on the challenge of analysing a non-linear, complex structure. The project inverted terms turning cracks into strength. That became productively provocative. For our team’s sculptors, the normal method would be to make a silicone mould of the clay and use known methods of casting to produce the panels. Instead, every mould was from clay and unique. This was a great challenge with many benefits and risks. If we were to convert these experiences to advice for future competitors, it might be: push what you think is possible with material but inform that with what you think would be challenging and meaningful for your team and their respective disciplines. This will make the project all the more successful if you can manage the risks of trying something new.

What advice would you have to contest participants on taking part in the latest City of Dreams Pavilion competition?

  • You have to determine how ambitious you can afford to be.
  • Your group of collaborators is crucial. Gather a fantastic team around you.
  • The Kickstarter campaign is a project in itself. Work hard on your video, your rewards and keep the updates coming. Promotion on Facebook worked well for us. The Kickstarter is really a separate project and you have to do it right.

Q&A with David Koren and Jessica Sheridan

The executive director of FIGMENT and member of ENYA discuss their ambitions for the compeition

Why are your holding a contest for a pop-up pavilion on Governors Island?

FIGMENT is an experiment in creative community development, organization, and expression that we began in 2007, and that has spread over the past decade to 18 cities in 5 countries. We have held nearly 60 free participatory arts festivals, all created by volunteers, with a view to the idea that everyone is an artist, that everyone can contribute creatively to the experience, in whatever way they choose.

In 2009, we decided to team up with the American Institute of Architects New York Chapter emerging professional committee (ENYA) and the Structural Engineers Association of New York (SEAoNY) to invite architects and others interested in creating a pavilion to submit a design for the City of Dreams pavilion, a structure that would be on Governors Island (where we first started FIGMENT in 2007) for the entire summer, along with other summer-long installations such as an artist-designed minigolf course, a treehouse that functions as a pop-up gallery, and a collection of interactive summer-long sculptures. All of these programs are created through open calls for participation.

From FIGMENT’s perspective, we are very interested in inspiring people who may not identify as “professional” artists or architects or creatives to make art, as we believe that we are all creative and that it is through our individual creativity that we can create truly engaging public experiences and build creative communities. Contests, open public calls for participation, are the best way we’ve found to do this. For ENYA and SEAoNY, design competitions also provide a means for emerging practices to explore new construction methods and strategies.

Now that FIGMENT is active in several countries around the world, we recognize that much of our growth will be fueled by going to new locations and engaging with artists and designers from far away. We are very excited by the diversity of entries we receive each year for the City of Dreams Pavilion Competition, in terms of where they come from and the perspective they bring to public architecture. When judges choose from a broad range of diverse projects, their own understanding of and perspective on what is possible in the public realm is expanded.

The 2015 winning pavilion by Izaskun Chinchilla Architects

The 2015 winning pavilion by Izaskun Chinchilla Architects

The 2015 winning pavilion by Izaskun Chinchilla Architects

What is your vision for the new structure?

The City of Dreams Pavilion is intended to be a public gathering place on Governors Island, a central node for all of the amazing arts and creative activity that happens on the island over the summer. We have always imagined that the pavilion could be a place for public performances, and a place to learn about the arts activities happening on the island.

We have so far built seven pavilions on Governors Island over the years, and each has expressed this vision in different ways. In addition, each of the pavilions has been sited in a different location on the island, in response to its own unique character and the requirements of the island and other installations and activities that have been planned. The most important constraint is that, as a former military base, there is a limited understanding of what may be under the soil, including potentially unexploded ordinance, so temporary structures and artworks like the pavilion are not permitted to go into the soil by more than six inches (15 cm). Other than that, anything is really possible as long as it is safe, buildable, and able to be funded collaboratively by the design team and through the broad support of our community.

Each year, we assemble a jury of impressive architects, architectural journalists, engineers, and artists to review all of the pavilion submissions, select finalists, and then eventually, after a second round of submissions, select a winner. In each year, this jury has been primarily concerned with architectural quality and innovation, and has often tended to select a very innovative and experimental project which they also have confidence can be built. This year, for example, our jury selected the Cast & Place pavilion by Team Aesop, an incredibly innovative structure cast in aluminium using clay as a casting mould.

Sustainability is a key component in our competition brief. When we were first conceiving of the City of Dreams pavilion competition in 2009, we were concerned with the idea that so many temporary structures, pavilions, and follies use new materials in their construction and do not seem to have a plan for reuse or recycling after the installation is over. So we made it clear in our original competition brief that designers should consider carefully where their materials come from, and where they go after the pavilion installation is over. Many of our pavilions have been built primarily by sourcing materials in the waste stream, then taking them out of the stream before they end up in a landfill, and then, after the installation, recycling them in one way or another. For example, our 2017 pavilion is made primarily from melted down aluminium cans. After the installation is over, the pavilion is designed to be taken apart and recycled in a variety of ways.

Fort Jay, Governors Island

Fort Jay, Governors Island

Source: Image by Chris Ruvolo

Fort Jay, Governors Island

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

The City of Dreams Pavilion Design Competition is open to everyone to submit. We hope to receive submissions from experienced and inexperienced architects, designers, artists, engineers, and builders of all kinds. Many of our previous winners have been small emerging practices, or collaborative interdisciplinary groups. For many of the architects involved in creating previous pavilions, the pavilion is a watershed project in their portfolio, and the installation has led to future professional success, media attention, speaking opportunities, and other accolades.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

Governors Island, where our pavilion is located, is working on a development program and will begin to issue development RFPs later this year for several undeveloped sites. It is our hope that architects and designers who have been involved in smaller temporary projects in the past will utilize this experience to get involved in the island’s upcoming development plan.

Are there any other pop-up pavilion projects you have been impressed by?

When we were originally conceiving the City of Dreams Pavilion Design Competition, we were very impressed by Young Architects Program at P.S. 1 in New York City, and the Serpentine Gallery temporary pavilions in London. While we do not have the prestige or budgets of either institution, we had been hoping to create a more public and inclusive design competition that could be open to architects, designers, and artists with any level of experience. There aren’t specific pavilions that we would like to call out as particularly successful, though all of the temporary pavilions created for of the P.S. 1 Young Architects Program and the Serpentine Gallery are impressive, and we regard them as highly successful.