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Who the Heck is Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Anyway?

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Architects Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio, and Charles Renfro, and their Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston
"We’re a firm of misfits. We don’t belong in any category?we are all oddballs." That's Elizbeth Diller of New York architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, speaking in a 2009 Charlie Rose interview. Now that Eli Broad has officially announced he's hired the firm to design his $100 million museum, the question has been raised: Who is Diller Scofidio + Renfro, anyway? The architects around here may know the firm well, but lacking any High Line park or inhabitable cloud in this city, some Angelenos are probably wondering who this firm is, why they think they're above using an ampersand in their name, and what they're gonna build in downtown LA.

So the facts: The firm is made up of the husband and wife team of Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, along with Charles Renfro, who was made partner in 2004. They have about 60 employees and one office in New York. By comparison, Rem Koolhaas' OMA firm--which also submitted designs for this project---has more than 220 staffers in 35 offices around the world, according to their web site.

Diller and Scofidio was founded in 1979. As Rose notes, the firm "started getting major projects only recently. For decades, they were known as designers, theorists and provocateurs." According to Time magazine, they were particularly known for their “conceptual mixed-media installations and video work."

In 2003, a Whitney retrospective in New York showcased 20 years worth of the firm's work in a show that "investigated the issues that pervade the work of Diller + Scofidio: display, tourism, surveillance, ritual, and control," according to ArcSpace. See some images here. They’ve also done various art installation projects in San Jose and San Francisco, according to Jhaelen Eli, director of business development for the firm. By far, one of their more famous experimental designs was the Blur building. Built for the Swiss Expo 2002, the project was “shrouded in mist created by 15,000 high-pressure water nozzles," according to Time.

According to the Charlie Rose interview, the firm's work on the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston--finished in 2006--was one of the first larger projects that changed their reputation. Here’s Elizabeth Diller on the Boston museum and how it gave them credibility among those who were "dubious" of the firm's work, speaking on the Rose's show: “...Sometimes we were thought of just as being on the periphery?that we were [lobbing] grenades at architecture?when we had a chance to do this building, it was a wake-up, it was a validation.”

Additionally, the popularity of the recent High Line in New York, an elevated park that runs along the West Side of Manhattan, greatly raised the profile of the firm. And earlier this year, the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) selected Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) to design its new building, according to the Architect's Newspaper.

So what will the firm design for the Downtown site? We won't know specifics until plans are unveiled this fall, but the critics will be watching. Here's LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne writing earlier this year about their possible selection for Grand Ave: "The firm is known for highly inventive design solutions — some cerebral, some cheeky — including a planned inflatable event space that would expand to fill the circular courtyard of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. But it has yet to produce a building that entirely fulfills the terrific promise of its early conceptual work."

Meanwhile, did we mention this is a working relationship? DIller and Scofidio were profiled in this 2007 New York Times story about the trend of husband-and-wife architect collaborations. All images in gallery via Charlie Rose and DSF's web site
· Diller Scofidio + Renfro [Official Site]

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