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Diller Scofidio + Renfrolocked

  • Mary M. Tinti

Architecture, design and conceptual art partnership. Diller Scofidio + Renfro [Diller + Scofidio] was formed in 1979 by Elizabeth Diller (b Lodz, Poland, 1954) and Ricardo Scofidio (b New York, NY, 1935) as an interdisciplinary design practice based in New York.

Diller studied at the Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York (BArch, 1979) and then worked as an Assistant Professor of Architecture (1981–90) at the Cooper Union School of Architecture, becoming Associate Professor of Architecture at Princeton University in 1990. Scofidio, who also attended Cooper Union (1952–5), obtained his BArch from Columbia University (1960) and became Professor of Architecture at Cooper Union in 1965. In 1997 Charles Renfro joined the firm and was made partner in 2004, at which point the partnership changed its name to Diller Scofidio + Renfro. While the couple (who are married) initially eschewed traditional architectural projects in favor of installations, set design and landscape design, by the 21st century their firm had received commissions for both new buildings and renovations of existing architecture. Diller and Scofidio were the first architects to receive a MacArthur Foundation fellowship (1999) and, together with their firm, have received numerous awards for both their buildings and their designs for dance and theater productions.

Responsible for some of the most innovative architecture and design projects of the past few decades, Diller Scofidio + Renfro have consistently incorporated a fascination with contemporary critical, architectural, cultural and gender theories as well as an interest in cutting-edge applications of emerging technologies. They have used their unique understanding of complex ideologies to push the boundaries of art and architecture, and their works subtly question the ways we integrate the spaces of our built environment with our social needs, habits and desires.

While Diller Scofidio + Renfro may be more widely known for their 21st century architectural institutions (both those proposed and realized), they designed those structures ever-mindful of their previous cross-media artistic experiments. Such works as Traffic (1981), an installation of traffic cones in New York City’s Columbus Circle; Tourisms: Suitcase Studies (1991), an installation of suitcases and travel artifacts for each of the 50 states in the USA; Interclone Hotel (1997), an advertising campaign for a fictitious global hotel chain; American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Life (1998), an exhibition examining the hidden/unnatural qualities of grassy suburban yards; Jet Lag, (1998) a multimedia theatrical production; Travelogues (2001), a lenticular installation in JFK International Airport’s Terminal 4 exploring the culture of international air travel alongside cyborgian technologies and identity; and the Blur Building (2002, Swiss Expo, Lake Neuchâtel) a conceptual enclosure fabricated entirely from fog—all had a profound impact on future proposals.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, 2006; photo: Iwan Bann

Their impressive list of critically acclaimed architectural projects includes a renovation of the Brasserie restaurant in the Seagram Building, New York (2000); the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA (2006; see fig.); a repurposing initiative for New York City’s High Line (2009; a park built on a disused section of elevated railroad); and a noteworthy updating and re-design of Lincoln Center, New York (2009).

Writings

  • Flesh: Architectural Probes (New York, 1994)
  • Visite aux Armées: Tourismes de Guerre/Back to the Front: Tourisms of War (Basse-Normandie and New York, 1994)
  • Blur: The Making of Nothing (New York, 2002)

Bibliography

  • Scanning: The Aberrant Architectures of Diller + Scofidio (exh. cat., ed. A. Betsky; New York, Whitney, 2003)
  • G. Incerti, D. Ricchi and D. Simpson: “Diller + Scofidio (+ Renfro): The Ciliary Function,” Works and Projects 1979–2007 (Milan, 2007)