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Architecture

Design Decoded: When Pepsi Allowed a Team of Artists to Wreak Creative Havoc

 

pepsi pavilion

The Pepsi Pavilion at Expo ’70 (image: Takeyoshi Tanuma via YCAM)

While Pepsico’s finger may have slipped off the pulse of youth culture when they hired Edward Durell Stone to build their corporate campus, they found it again–briefly–when commissioning designers for their pavilion at Expo ‘70 in Osaka, Japan.

Still focusing their marketing on the kids they called the Pepsi Generation, the soda maker initially planned for the pavilion to be a simple bandshell that would host the winner of a global battle-of-the-bands style competition. After all, the kids love rock & roll, right? Japanese architect Tadashi Doi of Takenaka Komuten Co., a general contractor that traces its history back more than 400 years, was commissioned by Pepsi Japan to design the basic structure. Doi’s design for a slightly distorted 120-foot diameter faceted geodesic dome was a radical departure from the rather conservative Modernist headquarters Pepsi moved into that same year. But the dome’s architecture would be the least interesting thing about it.

The battle-of-the-bands idea was quickly scrapped after some internal disagreements among upper-level Pepsi brass. In lieu of a standard rock concert, it was decided that the pavilion would house a truly avant-garde work of contemporary art. Pepsi commissioned a group of artists, musicians and engineers who collaborated together under the name Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T) to design and program their pavilion. There were a lot of wheelings, dealings, arguments, misunderstandings and fundamental philosophical disagreements surrounding E.A.T.’s collaboration with Pepsi, but let’s just focus on the design of the installation, because it’s pretty great.

pepsi pavilion osaka

Pepsi Pavilion, Expo ’70(image: Shunk-Kender via Fondation Langlois)

E.A.T. weren’t particularly fond of the space they were given, but instead of ignoring it or opposing the faceted dome structure, they created a series of highly site-specific, integrated installations that dissolved the boundaries between art, technology and space, using the dome’s form against itself to create an immersive multimedia experience they referred to as “a living responsive environment.”

The Pepsi Pavilion engulfed in a cloud of its own making (image: Fujiko Nakaya via Research Library, The Getty Research Institute)

The Pepsi pavilion was a true collaborative effort in which E.A.T. synthesized multiple artistic interventions into a single unified whole. Two of the most prominent programs worked in tandem to literally conceal the architectural design. Most visibly (or invisibly as the case may be), a system of pipes and fog-emitted nozzles, designed by artist Fujiko Nakaya and physicist Thomas Lee, cloaked the dome in an artificial cloud whose shape would change in response to local weather conditions. At times, the cloud was six-feet thick, extending the effect of the Pavilion beyond the boundaries of the dome and prompting complaints from nearby vendors who couldn’t proffer their wares in the haze. Similar ideas and themes would be explored much later by architects Diller Scofidio Renfro, whose, scaffolding-like Blur Building(2002) used spraying misters to create what the architects called “immaterial architecture,” a phrase that echoes E.A.T. member Robert Rauschenberg’s description of the Pepsi project as an “invisible environment.”

pepsi pavilion osaka

The mylar-covered interior of the the Pepsi pavilion (image:  Shunk-Kender via Fondation Langlois)

If the outside of the building was a cloud, than the inside was its silver lining. The main interior space of the dome was dominated by an enormous mirrored Mylar surface held in place by vacuum pressure. In photographs, the inverted reflections created by the mirror almost look like holograms floating in space. As Marcelyn Gow, of the research and design collaborative servo writes, the combination of the fog and the mirror “would actively work to dematerialize the architecture of the pavilion itself. They would simultaneously augment and obscure the structure.” E.A.T. hated the architecture. So, like the strange and wonderful techno-artist-magicians they were, they made it disappear.

Additional programming in the building included electronically modified recordings of natural sounds that corresponded with various floor surfaces – bird tweets might be heard while walking across astroturf, for example. Other exterior elements, visible in the above photographs, included a laser beam space-frame and interactive, sculptural “floats” that move outside the pavilion and respond to movement. Truly keeping with the spirit of the 1960s, the pavilion was a case study in collaboration and participatory design. The interior changed in response to environmental conditions and the number of visitors, who were give some semblance of control over their environment through the interactive components. It’s hard to say more about what it was like to experience the pavilion because, it really was an experience; it was a visceral union of light, sound, and space. In other words, you had to be there, man.

The pavilion was an early example of a productive interaction between arts and industry, something that is so common today we barely even take note of it – see BMW’s collaboration with the Guggenheim, for example. The first lines of the press statement released jointly by E.A.T. and Pepsi-Cola is a paean to the union of the arts and and corporate culture: “E.A.T. is interested in Pepsi-Cola, not art. Our organization tried to interest, seduce and involve industry into participating in the process of making art.” This was a provocative statement to say the least and caused quite a commotion in the art world, many of whom saw little difference between global corporations like Pepsi and the military industrial complex. It came as no surprise then, that the relationship proved untenable and the program was unfortunately short-lived. Pepsi and E.A.T. came to some insurmountable disagreements and the cola giant canceled E.A.T.’s interactive, immersive, and incredibly expensive program with a modified version of their original idea for a music venue- something that Pepsi thought was more accessible for the average visitor.

Still from Masculin Feminin

The conflict between Pepsi’s desire to capture both the revolutionary spirit of avant-garde while also appealing to a broader, popular audience, reminds me of a scene from Masculin Féminin (1966), Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film/essay about a wannabe revolutionary in love with a wannabe pop star, and the dialectics of youth culture in the 1960s. The pop star, Madeleine, is asked by a reporter if she considers herself to be part of the “Pepsi Generation.” Her enthusiastic reply –”Oui! J’adore le Pepsi-Cola!”– is briefly interrupted by a gunshot, which goes completely unacknowledged. Madeleine so perfectly captures the charm and beauty of the youth with whom Pepsi, since the early ’60s, has tried to associate their brand. And yet, for a brief moment in 1970, Pepsi played both roles –revolutionary and pop star– but ultimately, like Madeleine, they ultimately chose to remain willingly oblivious to the burgeoning revolution, abandoning the barricades for pop culture adoration.

via Design Decoded http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/design/2013/09/when-pepsicola-allowed-a-team-of-artists-to-wreak-creative-havoc/

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Architecture

Design Decoded: The Architectural History of Pepsi, Part 2: Edward Durell Stone and the Corporate Campus

A view from the approach to Pepsi’s Purchase, New York Headquarters (image: “WhisperToMe” via wikimedia commons)

Sometime in the early 1970s, huge American companies like IBM, General Foods and Union Carbide fled the confines of the city for the greener pastures of the suburbs. The new corporate campuses built during this time were sprawling modernist complexes, designed for efficiency by some of the country’s top architects. In 1970, as the first shots were being fired in the cola wars, PepsiCo joined this corporate diaspora, relocating from their modest and much-adored 13-story building in Manhattan to a 450,000-sq-ft complex on a 168-acre former polo field in Purchase, New York. To design their new home, Pepsi recruited “modernism’s populist architect” Edward Durell Stone.

Stone’s name isn’t well known today, but he was once one of the most famous architects in the world. When he started his career in the 1930s, Ed Stone was a promising young designer and bon vivant who, it was said, “could draw anything except a sober breath.” He first made a name for himself in the 1940s, working on the designs for Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, which led to the commission for the new Museum of Modern Art building (1939) – Stone’s first foray into International Style modernism. Stone continued to work in the modernist idiom throughout the 1940s while also serving as chief critic at the Yale School of Architecture and, during World War II, a major in the United States Army Air Forces.  Some years before the war, he befriended Frank Lloyd Wright, who encouraged the up-and-coming architect to question the precepts of the International Style, and imbued him with an appreciation for ornament and vernacular architecture. Wright’s influence would manifest dramatically in the early 1950s when Stone was commissioned to design the American Embassy in New Delhi.

Stone’s design for the American Embassy in New Delhi helped launch him to stardom (image via WNYC)

The embassy’s modern design drew equal parts inspiration from Classical temples, European modernism, and local traditions. Its most notable–and most controversial– feature was a patterned concrete screen that minimized heat and glare while still allowing plenty of light into the building. The embassy was met with wide acclaim and honored by the American Institute of Architects as an expression of “serenity and power in government in terms appropriate for the country in which it is guest.” Although the building was an enormous professional and popular success, it proved to be quite divisive among the architectural community. While commissions were pouring into his office, staunch modernists and architecture critics focused on the patterned screen, calling it distracting and decorative – a stigma that would follow Stone throughout the rest of his career. But Stone had developed a fondness for decorative details and clients were clamoring for the his ornamental, romantic modernism. With the success of the embassy and a new PR-savvy wife who helped sober him up, Stone was quickly propelled from relative obscurity to the cover of Time magazine in 1958. He was in many ways a proto-starchitect

pepsi edward durell stone

An aerial view of the PepsiCo World Headquarters in Purchase, NY (image: google maps)

However, when he got the Pepsi commission in the late 1960s, Stone’s star was fading. By the mid-1960s, he had finally moved away from the concrete grillwork that had defined his personal style for so long, but the buildings behind the screens just weren’t as exciting. However, Stone never completely abandoned his love for decorative detailing, as evidenced by his design for the Pepsi Headquarters. The Purchase, New York complex, which is still the home of PepsiCo, consists of seven nearly identical inverted white ziggurat-like structures linked at their corners and organized around a cruciform central garden. It was supposedly designed to be expanded as the company grew, in a manner similar to, though less successful than, his friend Eero Saarinen’s design for IBM’s Rochester facility. Last year plans were announced that the facility was expanding for the first time since its construction, although it’s not certain if Pepsi will follow Stone’s original vision.

A closer look at Stone’s design for the PepsiCo Headquarters. Note the patterned concrete block. (image: “WhisperToMe” via wikimedia commons)

The new headquarters met with mixed reviews. Architectural Record described it as a “skillful blending” of architecture and nature combining elements of both the urban and the rural. Pepsi reported that after moving into the building, employee morale went up and work habits had improved. However, many critics still had a hard time accepting Stone’s work. Paul Goldberger, during his tenure as The New York Times architecture critic, called it “a world of utter blandness” that “is free of major vulgarities but also free of any excitement.” Much of the rancor towards his architecture can probably be attributed Goldberger’s precursor at The Times, the venerable Ada Louise Huxtable, whose dislike of Stone’s work merited two paragraphs in her obituary.

The landscaping, on the other hand, has been widely lauded. Initially designed by Stone’s son, Edward Stone Jr., to complement his father’s structure, the PepsiCo property is a verdant, luxurious sculpture garden filled with work by the likes of Brancusi, Alexander Calder, and Claes Oldenburg. And best of all, it’s open to the public.

Edward Durell Stone retired from practice in 1974 and fell into relative obscurity – a surprising reversal of fortune for a man whose face once adorned the cover of Time. Though his name is in the history books for his early work on Rockefeller Center and MOMA, his later projects are rarely discussed. Perhaps because they’re not easy to discuss; Stone’s work defies categorization. Some people have called Stone a proto-Postmodernist; some considered him a man ahead of his time while others thought he was struggling to keep up. In either case, his design for Pepsi’s HQ wasn’t attuned to the zeitgeist like their Manhattan offices. Stone may have been many things, but was certainly not a man of the Pepsi Generation – whatever that may be.

The final part in this short series will look at Pepsi’s radical pavilion at the 1970 Osaka World Expo.

via Design Decoded

Categories
Architecture

Design Decoded: The Architectural History of Pepsi, Part 1: The ‘Mad Men’ Years

 

pepsi building nyc

The Park Avenue facade of the Pepsi-Cola Corporation World Headquarters, designed by SOM (image: Ezra Stoller, via SOM]

In 1963, Pepsi-Cola launched a new advertising campaign: The Pepsi Generation. Those three simple words represented a drastic rebranding for the company, which had previously marketed itself as a cheaper version of rival Coca-Cola. With the launch of “The Pepsi Generation” campaign, Pepsi claimed to be offering something new, something hip, something for the kids. While Coke continued to trade on nostalgia with traditional imagery of some idyllic yesteryear, Pepsi’s commercials featured snappy jazz numbers and young beautiful people riding motorcycles. “Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation!” The soda maker’s rebranding also included a simplified logo featuring a modern, sans-serif typeface, the introduction of a diet cola –now famously immortalized in an episode of “Mad Men”– and, a few blocks from the offices of Sterling Cooper, a striking new modern building in New York City.

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