Arguably one of the most influential architects working today, co-founder of Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, Liz Diller admitted to PIN–UP a certain masochism when we interviewed her, saying she is only happy when “I’m pushing myself to a place of discomfort. Otherwise I’m bored.” Exclusively for PIN–UP, Diller’s friend, the Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli, used the portraits shot of Liz by Daniel Trese and created a special limited-edition cover entitled Untitled (Liz Diller with Architectural Tear). The cover comes in a special limited edition of 200 copies and can be ordered here. To mark the release of this special cover, we’re also publishing an excerpt from Diller's interview with Andrew Ayers in PIN–UP 23. Scroll down to read more. 

According to one version of the legend, it’s all John Hejduk’s fault. For it was he, as dean of Cooper Union, who reputedly persuaded Liz Diller to switch from film and photography to architecture. Today, although still protesting that she never wanted to be an architect, Diller co-heads an office that in 2012 completed a 1.2-billion-dollar overhaul of New York’s Lincoln Center, in 2014 opened the final section of New York’s 180-million-dollar High Line Park, in 2015 inaugurated the 140-million-dollar Broad Museum in Los Angeles, and is currently working on the 400-million-dollar MoMA expansion, to name just four projects of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s ever-growing roster. Diller’s other decisive Cooper Union encounter was of course Ricardo Scofidio, 19 years her senior (he is now 82, she 63) and one of her teachers. A couple in both work and life, they set up the firm of Diller + Scofidio in 1979, operating out of their run-down loft apartment at 36 Cooper Square. The duo spent their first two decades working almost anywhere but the construction site — in museums, galleries, or found situations — producing films, installations, performances, and exhibits that challenged assumptions about subjects as diverse as domestic chores (Bad Press: Dissident Ironing, 1993–98), surveillance (Master/Slave, 1999), and the standard room division of the American home (the withDrawing Room: versions and subversions, 1987). In 2002, after 23 years together, Diller + Scofidio achieved international fame with the ironically named Blur Building for Switzerland’s Expo.02. In the 15 years since, the firm has grown enormously and now counts over 100 people. Besides their many conventionally procured projects, DS+R are also working on The Shed (due 2019), a flexible arts space in the Hudson Yards which will include a giant, telescoping extension on wheels that can be rolled out onto the neighboring plaza for big multimedia events. Just this fall, in another display of technical ingenuity, DS+R opened the first phase of Zaryadye Park in the heart of Moscow, which aims to temper the climate of this famously wintry city. Diller received PIN–UP in the office's 18th-floor suite in the 1931 Starrett-Lehigh Building in New York’s Chelsea, right above the High Line. What better setting in which to interview this most New York of architects.

One thing I’m dying to ask you about is the Mile Long Opera you’re planning for the High Line next year — it sounds like such an intriguing idea.
After working as the architects of the High Line for over a decade, we were itching to use its natural theatricality in a performance project. Everything kind of grabs your attention there, whether original or new. So you can look into apartments voyeuristically, but there’s an implicit consent with the occupants on the other side. This two-way system makes you slightly uncomfortable, but intrigued. At the Standard Hotel, guests had started stripping and exposing themselves to a captive audience below. At 20th Street during construction, a floodlight was accidentally bumped and focused on a random window and fire escape of a nearby tenement apartment. A cabaret singer — the friend of the occupant — performed under that spotlight to an audience of strollers that gathered nightly. It became known as the Renegade Cabaret and, after a write-up in The New York Times, she had a big following. That was inspiring, and I started to wonder how we could use the length of the High Line as both the content and the site for a new kind of performance, in which the city was the protagonist. The place and its history seemed to me operatic. 

In what sense operatic?
It’s a grand theme — the decay, death, and rebirth of the city. Specifically, I’m interested in the speed of change of the post-industrial city and the misalignment of the rhythms of its inhabitants. There are two contemporary anxieties we want to capture — the nostalgia for the loss of an irretrievable past, and the apprehension of a potentially alienating future, all told through the hyper-present.

Are you an opera goer?
Not really. I don’t like the opera! I want to do one exactly for that reason — I want to purge myself of my negative associations with respect to the genre. The work is not exactly an opera, it’s becoming more of a very large choral work. The linearity of the site is inspiring the musical structure. The audience will stroll past performers who will be situated around, on, over, under, and adjacent to the High Line.

Will the audience have to move at a certain speed?
That’s a really interesting problem we’re trying to figure out.

I noticed, on a very busy Saturday, that once you get a critical mass of people up there, it keeps moving at a sort of snail’s pace.
The pace will be controlled by musical lulls and structured boredom.

No perception without contrast, as in everything I guess. What’s fascinating about this project which, a priori, has nothing to do with architecture, is how much it seems to tie in with so many things your office is about — they all come together in this one performance.
This performance is a critical manifestation of the architectural project. We started the park in an optimistic and naïve state of mind. When the High Line was first proposed, we thought it would be amazing to get 300,000 visitors per year. The rusty and obsolete structure was surrounded by a sea of open parking lots, and property owners in the area wanted to tear it down because it devalued their land. Last year, seven-million people visited the High Line, and the cost of adjacent property has been skyrocketing. Where there were once blank party walls next to active trains, today you’ll find glass buildings twisting for the best view of the High Line. We produced a new kind of phototropism. But we regret that gentrification came so fast. Another outcome was that the High Line went viral. When we did the book (The High Line (Phaidon, 2015)), there were already five-dozen public parks in design all over the world on defunct highways, bridges, and train tracks that used the High Line as their reference. We unwittingly touched a nerve in global culture with respect to two significant phenomena. One was ecological: limited resources force us to reinvent rather than discard old things. The other was the urge to protect space in our progressively privatized cities. Obsolete infrastructure is costly to remove, and its reuse can both curb our waste and benefit the quality of urban life.

That brings us to another question I wanted to ask you. As an architect working in the U.S. — and especially New York — who’s interested in public space, how much of your time is spent on diplomatic missions between all the different corporations and institutions?
(Laughs.) Well, a lot. It’s what comes with bringing new logics to institutions that fundamentally don’t like change. At Lincoln Center, we started with a media project in the street, and it evolved organically into an urban-scale transformation on 16 acres. Lincoln Center has a governance that requires total unanimity between its twelve constituent organizations. So in order to make a public-space change, big institutions like the Metropolitan Opera and small ones like the School of American Ballet have an equal vote. Among those twelve, each has a general manager and an artistic director, as well as a board that vies with the next for the same philanthropic dollars. They have in common one address and a central heating plant, but that’s about it. When we came on board, they’d never really worked together. So we had to meet each one, whet their appetites for change, and engage them in a collaborative effort. We had to make them believe that improving the common campus would be good for each individual box office. But it wasn’t just those twelve organizations. Lincoln Center is partially owned by the City, so the administration was deeply involved. There was a task force for the project — the only other task force was at Ground Zero. Lincoln Center was also on the Historic Register, so we had to work with preservation and professional groups. There was considerable community involvement because of changes in land use and the burdensome ULURP process (uniform land use review procedure). Our organizational chart was incredibly complex.

With DS+R at the center like an octopus, I’m guessing.
Like an octopus with 100 tentacles! At a certain point in this decade-long project, I started to feel that all I did was go to meetings. I rarely had a chance to design. Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration. I realized along the way that the 99 percent of hard work in consensus building is as creative as the one percent of original design thinking. That was an epiphany.

It’s a different kind of creativity.
Totally. It takes a different kind of creativity to educate people, to get them to talk to one another, to produce a vision that can be seen through multiple lenses, and to help raise money for it. It was a maturing project for my studio and for me. Did it change the way you run the office?

No, we’re still pretty old fashioned and have a very informal style of collaboration. We just fight about everything. We’ll come to the table, kick around ideas, argue, fight, shoot each other, and the person who comes out the least bloody usually wins. (Both laugh.) It’s all about ideas — the best idea triumphs.

Read the full interview in PIN–UP 23, Fall Winter 2017/18

Text by Andrew Ayers. Special cover by Francesco Vezzoli. Portrait photography by Daniel Trese. Issue photography by Josep Fonti.