Folly 2014: SuralArk

Folly is a competition co-sponsored by The Architectural League and Socrates Sculpture Park that invites emerging architects and designers to propose contemporary interpretations of the architectural folly, traditionally a fanciful, small-scale building or pavilion sited in a garden or landscape to frame a view or serve as a conversation piece. Folly was established by Socrates, in partnership with the League, to explore the intersections between architecture and sculpture and the increasing overlaps in references, materials, and building techniques between the two disciplines. Now in its third year, Folly attracted over 170 submissions in 2014.

Below, we highlight the entry of the winning team, who will design and build their project over several months during a residency at Socrates. To read more about Folly 2014, including an interview with this year’s winners and a look at several notable competition entries and some recurring themes that emerged in this year’s proposals, click here.

Folly 2014: SuralArk by Jason Timberlake Austin and Aleksandr Mergold

SuralArk by Jason Timberlake Austin and Aleksandr Mergold

SuralArk is the conceptually rich and visually arresting winning proposal of the 2014 Folly competition, which is being built over the coming months at Socrates Sculpture Park by its designers Jason Timberlake Austin and Aleksandr Mergold of the Philadelphia-based studio Austin + Mergold.

SuralArk is an inverted, seemingly unfinished (or perhaps decomposing) boat hull rising from the ground to provide a canopy and a place for reflection. Explicitly referencing Noah’s Ark and its arrival at Mount Ararat, the form suggests, in the designers’ words, “an imposing, fanciful, yet purposeless structure: a boat without water, a house without inhabitants, a simple hulking mass of a conflicted typology.” As an “American vernacular interpretation of the original,” SuralArk is constructed out of dimensional lumber and clad in a patchwork of vinyl siding. The ambiguity and formal tension of the piece is captured in the project statement by Austin + Mergold, in which they reflect, “Whether this was once a house in Levittown now on its way to becoming a boat, or a new hybrid houseboat under construction on the shore of East River in anticipation of the next hurricane flood is not entirely clear.”

Proclaiming that the old territorial designations of rural, suburban, and urban are increasingly blurred and no longer applicable, Austin + Mergold invented the classifications “Sural” and “Rurban” to describe the surreal, liminal, and hybrid condition articulated by their proposal. Architectural League Program Director Anne Rieselbach notes: “the project exemplifies this new vocabulary, providing an arresting threshold to Socrates, while offering multiple readings of the park’s own hybrid context.” 

Sketches for SuralArk, courtesy of Austin + Mergold

SuralArk deftly sails between a number of dichotomies,” Folly 2014 juror Chris Doyle notes; “Both as an object and as a space, the project has a clever elegance.” Doyle also praises the conceptual and contextual strengths of the piece: “the designers refer to the river and the recent flooding [of Socrates Sculpture Park], while at the same time securely settling the work among the vinyl-clad houses of Queens. “With SuralArk, Austin + Mergold have captured “the essence of Socrates,” says the park’s Executive Director, John Hatfield. “As visitors explore its overturned hull at the waterfront, they will be reminded of the park’s industrial heritage and that New York City, with its functional waterways, is indeed a city of water.”

SuralArk will open on May 11, 2014, at an afternoon event at Socrates Sculpture Park, and will be on view through August 3, 2014. For more information about visiting, click here.

Text by Gabriel Silberblatt, Assistant Editor for The Architectural League.

SuralArk model, courtesy of Austin + Mergold

SuralArk model (interior), courtesy of Austin + Mergold

SuralArk model, courtesy of Austin + Mergold

SuralArk model, courtesy of Austin + Mergold

SuralArk model, courtesy of Austin + Mergold

SuralArk model, courtesy of Austin + Mergold