A/D/O by MINI | Pedro y Juana’s urban jungle

Journal

Architecture

Pedro y Juana’s urban jungle

The architects’ installation in the MoMA PS1 courtyard brings museum goers into an immersive junglescape, and takes influence from Long Island City’s construction boom.

The centerpiece of this summer’s programming at MoMA PS1 is a 40-foot-tall, 90-foot-wide circle of scaffolding, dimensional lumber, jungle print, and brightly colored hammocks. Called the Hórama Rama, it rises above the concrete walls of the museums courtyard like a bristling coliseum. Inside, visitors are surrounded by a jungle-themed mural and the sound of a waterfall drowns out the cars on Jackson Avenue. The hammocks, imported from southern Mexico in Instagram-friendly shades of red and purple, are strung among the scaffold beams. 

The architects behind the construction are the Mexico City-based duo Pedro y Juana, comprising Ana Paula Ruiz Galindo and Mecky Reuss. The pair’s proposal was selected from five finalists in MoMA’s Young Architects Program. Now in its 20th year, the program is an opportunity for emerging studios to design an immersive environment for the courtyard where a summer concert series, called Warm Up, draws big crowds on the weekends, and where museum goers can relax at other times. 

Though Galindo and Reuss are young, they are hardly unknown even on an international scale. The pair’s work has won wide acclaim in recent years for intellectual, yet approachable designs that visitors and viewers can’t help but engage with. Both graduates of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), their firm is based in Mexico City and has just two other employees. 

The firm’s name is a bit of a mystery. “Pedro y Juana are something of our alter egos,” Reuss told The Journal. “They exist when they need to exist,” added Galindo. Regardless, the pair has been busy; designing installations at the 2015 and 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennials, an installation for Airbnb at Design Miami 2016, and architectural projects including a restoration of an historic building in downtown Mexico City. All of their projects are notable for the way they bring the colors and crafts of their adopted city to bear on contemporary design problems. The Airbnb installation, inspired by and named for the Latin American phenomenon known as sobremesa (sitting around a table and chatting for hours), encouraged visitors to engage and be present, while their 2017 design for an interactive multi-use space at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, called the Commons, featured hundreds of hanging geometric “plant lamps” that covered the ceiling. It blended traditional Mexican style, cut-out paper art, and a popular concern of 21st-century design installations: bringing the natural world into a gallery setting. 

Their proposal for the PS1 courtyard follows in the same vein: experimenting with typologies and materials, and blending the natural with the artificial. The competition brief for the courtyard is the same every year; it calls for shade, a water feature, and an immersive environment. “With those three conditions in mind we were looking at the way the courtyards are divided,” said Galindo. “The circular form came naturally into the space as a way to make a connection or break the orthogonality of the courtyards that are already there.” The site consists of three spaces: a long, main courtyard from which the front of the museum and the stage for PS1’s summer Warm-Up party series is visible; a large square area and a tiny closet-sized one. The scaffold frame of Hórama Rama, rests in each of these, uniting an otherwise chopped-up space. 

Photo by Rafael Gama

When the duo had an opportunity to visit the site this past spring, after they were selected as finalists for the Young Architects Program, they realized they had another problem. As Long Island City has developed, PS1’s neighbors have gotten taller and taller, crowding the horizon inside the museum’s courtyard. When the Young Architects Program began 20 years ago, the Queens neighborhood was not a site of major development and the sky was the only backdrop for a project in the PS1 Courtyard, but this is no longer the case. “We did some early collages where we just dumped stuff into the courtyard and every time that stuff disappeared against this huge backdrop of corporate ugliness,.” said Reuss. The ring of Hórama Rama blocks out some of that visual noise, obscuring nearby condominium towers behind a screen painted with jungle imagery. The materials are a clever visual reference to the scaffold-clad towers going up in the museum’s vicinity. 

The circular mural and the installation’s name are references to a somewhat obscure 19th-century typology called the cyclorama, which were essentially circular dioramas – positioning the viewer at the center of an exotic landscape or used to tell the stories of historical events. There is a well-known cyclorama in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which portrays the Civil War battle that took place at the site. “[The cyclorama] is sometimes called the first virtual experience, and so we thought, ‘well, what’s more immersive than that?’” Galindo said.

“We wanted to flip that idea of taking people into a known landscape, or a landscape that has been controlled, so we chose a jungle because it’s also an abstraction of a place. You can never quiet down a jungle. A jungle is always in constant change.”

Though the imagery is tropical – vivid green leaves punctuated by vibrant red and pink flowers – the materials for the construction are all New York-related. Scaffolding was an easy choice, since it is so quick to set up and take down. “Scaffold seemed to be omnipresent in New York,” said Reuss. “It’s incredibly fast to construct, sturdy enough to support whatever went on top of it, and same for going down. So that language continued into the lumber, our hairs as we call them.” Because these materials are so common, they will be easy to reuse when September 2 comes around and it’s time to take apart the temporary structure.

The end of the summer will also be the end of the pair’s sojourn in New York. They have been teaching at Columbia’s GSAPP since the winter, but when the summer semester ends, they will return to Mexico City, where their latest project awaits: a four-story building that will house five apartments in the Juárez district. But judging by the response to their work in NYC and beyond, Pedro y Juana is set for even larger projects both at home and abroad.

Text by Ethan Tucker.

Photography by Kris Graves unless captioned otherwise.