Cultured Magazine

Fall 2014

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The namesakes of Cooper Joseph Studio have done big and they've done small. Prior to becoming partners, Chris Cooper and Wendy Evans Joseph had already individually established themselves as power players in the architecture world: Cooper ran his own practice in New Orleans before working up the ranks at SOM, directing a 40-person architecture studio; Joseph logged 12 years at Pei Cobb Freed & Partners before launching her eponymous firm in 1996. Finding commonality in a vision for practical, unpretentious design, the two joined forces in 2011. Since then, the architects have applied their big-league expertise to an impressive, highly personal body of work. The duo has been particularly active in the museum realm, thanks to their exhibition designs that consistently deepen understanding. At "Kevin Roche: Architecture as Environment," which opened at the National Building Museum in 2012, a grid of black and white engulfed all surfaces in homage to Roche's tectonic design vocabulary. For last year's Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) show, "Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced," Cooper Joseph suspended fabric panels between overhead lighting. This fringed ceiling provided a vaguely disco backdrop for Burrows' attention-getting ensembles. "Mac Conner: A New York Life," on display at MCNY through January 11, 2015, culminates Cooper Joseph's big gallery gestures thus far. While Conner shared The Saturday Evening Post commissions with Norman Rockwell, the midcentury illustrator eschewed the older artist's sentiment. Cooper Joseph's exhibition design revels in this emotional nuance. Large-scale black-and- white photographs of Midtown Manhattan mix with full-length mirrors, immersing viewers in a post-World War II urban environment, inviting empathy with Conner's characters' psyches. "Establishing a core visitor experience for specific content is where we start each exhibition project," Joseph says. "Our goal is to communicate at the level of the boldest ideas while also providing opportunity for further exploration." Another MCNY project entitled Starlight demonstrates how the partners apply this mindset to permanent works. Tailoring their unapologetic Modernism to the unique characteristics of a place, Starlight is a matrix of LEDs suspended within the museum rotunda. The uniform grid of almost 5,000 diodes creates a circle shape in elevation, yet the disciplined treatment gives way to starbursts and other moiré effects as visitors move around the installation—the ethereal quality of which defers to the museum's historic interior. Joseph says she and Cooper look forward to designing whole museum buildings. Their work in Dallas' Webb Chapel Park may suggest what that future will look like. Replacing a 1960s-era pavilion, the duo designed a structure that lifts a seemingly monolithic volume on three pillars. Walking beneath the concrete roof actually reveals four pyramidal voids, which facilitate natural ventilation in the manner of a Mexican palapa. The pavilion's combination of pure geometry and vernacular knowledge exemplifies a "rigorously reductive process of creating abstract design," as Joseph describes it, but also how "with these convictions, there is boundless room for innovation." Clockwise from top: Cooper Joseph Studio co-founders Wendy Evans Joseph and Chris Cooper; Starlight installation at the Museum of the City of New York; Webb Chapel Park Pavilion in Dallas; Cooper Joseph's design for "Mac Conner: A New York Life" exhibition at MCNY; a writer's studio in Ghent, New York. Shaping the Show With equal parts emotional nuance, viewer experience and good old-fashioned architecture skills, Cooper Joseph Studio is reshaping exhibition design. BY DAVID SOKOL 78 CULTURED

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