Complex
Snarkitecture, August 2014
By Cedar Pasori

When did you two meet?

DANIEL ARSHAM: We went to school together at Cooper Union and met in 2000. Snarkitecture officially started in 2008. It developed out of projects I was doing in my own practice that often put me in conflict with building code and requirements for spaces outside of a gallery or museum. With Alex on the architectural side, Snarkitecture started its own vision, its own world.

ALEX MUSTONEN: There’s a lot of precedent for collaboration between art and architecture, but we were interested in creating a sustained practice.

How have you worked around building codes to execute your vision?

AM: We plan for these things during the design process, but one of the more complex examples is when we worked on A Memorial Bowing at Marlins Ballpark in Miami. It features a number of large, concrete letters leaning at precarious angles. The city’s Americans with Disabilities Act office was especially concerned, but we were able to subtly adjust the position of each letter so that they were 100 percent code compliant. We engineered the letters to withstand forces ranging from hurricanes to a group of people jumping on them after a World Series victory. I like the idea that the letters will still be there 100 years from now, even after the stadium might be gone.

Did you both grow up with an interest in architecture and design?

AM: I did, yeah.

DA: I always liked architecture, and I probably would’ve tried to do architecture if I wasn’t so terrible at making straight lines. Your work deals with how people perceive objects and their functions. 

How do you approach manipulating architecture and space to change how viewers understand them?

DA: A lot of the time, it’s about distilling something down to its most basic condition. We try to find something existing already in the site to alter or to focus on. In projects like Drift at Design Miami,
we reused tent material to create different forms, and then replicated those forms.

When did you decide to incorporate dance into your work, as you did in Why Patterns with dancer Jonah Bokaer?

AM: We always had this idea of collaborating with other artists, designers, or choreographers, but the connection with Jonah specifically came through Daniel, who’d been working in dance with Jonah and Merce Cunningham. The opportunity to create Why Patterns arose out of that.

The White Room, with Chromeo, was the first installation that incorporated music. How did you consider sound in its creation?

AM: Sound was a key part of that project, but it was particularly Chromeo’s sound. They were previewing new music from their album White Women, and we collaborated with them to create the visual and spatial world surrounding that. The idea of an all matte-white car played into their sound, creating this image of the guys en route to a gig, lost in an unfamiliar world while their equipment spills out of the trunk.

You’ve also worked with fashion designers like Richard Chai and En Noir. How do you approach creating a scene that includes clothing and models?

DA: One of the interesting aspects of designing for fashion shows is the performative element— both models and guests are interacting with the world that we create. Designing the experience of how someone approaches, enters, moves through, engages with, and exits the architectural and scenic environment of the show is a critical part of how we approach all of our work.

Have you had to turn down a lot of projects?

AM: Increasingly, we’re turning down projects.

DA: There are people who have come to us and the project’s just not right for us, or the schedule is unrealistic. We’re trying to allow ourselves enough time to do things in a way that fulfills our vision of this practice.

AM: Generally, the people who are interested in talking to us and working with us are a good fit. They’re interested in commissioning the kind of work we want to make.

Would Snarkitecture ever design a whole city?

DA: City planning?

AM: We’re starting a little bit smaller, but I would never rule it out.