Drawing equally on the tools of architecture, visual art, performance and new media, Diller Scofidio + Renfro are a trans-disciplinary practice whose projects consider space not as a neutral canvas, but a complex script, imbued with invisible conventions and histories.
Arbores Laetae (Joyful Trees), playfully reinvents the tradition of the public park to propose a new model for green space in the urban context. Situated on a brownfield site adjacent to a key arterial route into the city centre, the work consists of seventeen hornbeams formally planted in grid pattern to create a small wooden grove. At the heart of this landscape, three slowly rotating trees periodically disrupt the formality of the frid with their diagonal dance.
The choice of a Latin title for the work – Arbores Laetae – exemplifies the combination of rigour and playfulness which characterises Dillers Scofidio + Renfro’s approach. Each project involves extensive research not only into the physical site or form that provides the starting point for the work, but the conventions and debates governing that space. The result is a project that is both of the site for which it has been created, and a tool with which to see the site or context more clearly, throwing into relief conventions or realities which have gone unnoticed.
Blur, for example, was a pavillion created for Swiss Expo 2002. Situated on a lake, the structure took its inspiration and form not only from the watery context of the lake and its weather systems, but also the imperative of spectacle that drives international expos. The Blur pavilion was constructed literally out of ‘hot air’, an artificially created fog that floated above the surface of the lake, obscuring a platform beneath. In a typically ironic play, Diller Scofidio + Renfro created a misty haze through which visitors could see their surroundings more clearly.
In Arbores Laetae, they follow the conventions of hoticulture and give their newly invented species a Latin name. The Joyful Tree is a tree created specially for an urban, roadside, setting. This new hybrid crossbreeds the endless movement of surrounding traffic with the leafy backdrop of street greenery, mergin nature – the imagined site of respite and retreat – with the dynamics of city life to create a new reality. Incorporating a strong performative element, Arbores Laetae choreographs the everyday. Trees no longer form a green backdrop, but become central characters on the urban stage; visitors are not onlookers, but cast as performers in a pleasurable dance of discovery.