Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio Biography

Architects and artists

Born Elizabeth Diller, in 1954, in Poland; married Ricardo Scofidio. Education: Cooper Union School of Architecture, B.A., 1979. Born Ricardo Scofidio, in 1935, in New York, NY; married first wife (divorced); married Elizabeth Diller. Education: Attended Cooper Union School of Architecture, 1952–55; Columbia University, B.A., 1960.


Office —Diller + Scofidio, 38 Cooper Sq., New York, NY 10003. Website www.dillerscofidio.com .


Diller worked as assistant professor, Cooper Union School of Architecture, 1981–90; associate professor of architecture at Princeton University, 1990—; director of graduate studies, 1993—. Scofidio worked as architect, 1960–79; professor at Cooper Union School of Architecture, 1965—. Together, formed Diller + Scofido, 1979.


Together: Graham Foundation for Advance Study in the Fine Arts fellowship, 1986; New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships, 1986, 1987, and 1989; Bessie Schoenberg Dance and Performance Award for design, 1987; Chicago Institute for Architecture and Urbanism fellowship, 1989; Tiffany Foundation Award for Emerging Artists, 1990; Award from Progressive Architecture magazine, for Slow House, 1991; Chrysler Award for Achievement and Design, 1997; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, 1999; Eugene MacDermott Award for creative achievement from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1999; Brunner Prize, Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2003; James Beard Foundation Award for best new restaurant design for the Brasserie; Progressive Architecture Design Award for Blur Building; Obie Award for creative achievement, Village Voice, for Jet Lag.


In 1999, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, working under the name Diller + Scofidio, became the first architects to be awarded the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant. The married couple, who began working together in 1979, did not initially do many traditional architecture projects, but cultivated their own version of modernism in their art projects, primarily installations, sculptures, and constructions as well as sets, design, and other art works. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, Diller + Scofidio began being commissioned for more buildings and other works normally associated with architects while retaining their very individual vision for these pieces. As the curator of their retrospective show in 2003 Aaron Betsky told Arthur Lubow of the New York Times, "In experimental architecture and design, they are the only ones who made as the core of their work the question 'What do we mean by architecture?'"

Though Diller and Scofidio were both trained as architects, they come from somewhat dissimilar backgrounds. Diller was born in 1954 in Poland, the daughter of a Jewish couple. After spending her early years in Lodz, Poland, Diller emigrated with her parents to the United States when she was five years old. They settled in New York City. Scofidio was born in 1935 in New York City. His father was a band leader.

Both Diller and Scofidio studied at New York City's Cooper Union. Scofidio was a student in the Cooper Union School of Architecture from 1952–55, but earned his undergraduate degree from Columbia University's architecture school in 1960. He began his career in traditional architecture firms after graduation, and became a professor of architecture at Cooper Union in 1965. It was there that they met when Diller began studying at Cooper Union's School of Architecture in the 1970s. She originally began her studies at Cooper Union in art, but took an architecture class because she was interested in ideas about space and culture, two concepts that would be central to her work with Scofidio.

While Diller was Scofidio's student, he was already married, though he later divorced his wife. The pair did not date nor marry until after she graduated from Cooper Union in 1979. After she graduated, she began teaching at Cooper Union as an assistant professor beginning in the early 1980s. She later lectured at Harvard University, and beginning in 1990, was an associate professor at Princeton University. By this time, Diller and Scofidio were firmly established architects in their own right as Diller + Scofidio.

The couple began working together in 1979. Many of their early works were rather small, and included stage sets, site–specific art installations, and performance pieces. They were already using space and form to explore social behavior. Summarizing their approach, Aaron Betsky of Architecture wrote, "they are less concerned with traditional architectural form and construction than with analyzing the way social conventions or rules dictate the way people use places, objects, and events. Diller + Scofidio's job as they see it is to reveal those roles, and where it makes sense, to free us from them."

Some of their early works were very simple. In 1981, for example, Diller + Scofidio put 2,500 orange cones in New York City's Columbus Circle for 24 hours to show traffic patterns. Three years later, the pair designed a new entrance gate, sign, and pole–based windsocks for the site of the annual Art on the Beach, a sculpture show in New York City. Diller herself had previously designed part of the set for a participatory work of art at the 1983 Art on the Beach called Civic Plots with sculptor James Aholl and performance artist Kaylynn Sullivan.

Other early works of Diller + Scofidio's were also related to performance and art space. In 1986, the pair provided the stage design for a performance piece called The Rotary Notary and His Hot Plate, or a Delay in Glass. The theater troupe Creation Production Company staged The Rotary Notary and His Hot Plate and the rest of the title referred to the staging which was inspired by Marcel Duchamp's work "The Large Glass" which was originally done on a window. Diller + Scofidio put a large mirror angled on the divided stage. The actors behind a divider could be seen by the audience in the mirror. Ten years later, the pair did a set for the Charleroi/Dances Troupe's performance called Moving Targets that used a mirror in similar fashion. It featured a mirror angled over the stage giving the audience an unusual view of the dancers and the stage.

On a completely different front, Diller + Scofidio did The WithDrawing Room with sculptor David Ireland. They took a house in San Francisco, California, and transformed it into a gallery/studio as well as a work of art that commented on domestic ideas. For example, in the dining room, the table hung from the ceiling and its chairs were attached by hinges.

One of Diller + Scofidio's first important commissions was a piece at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1989 called Para–Site. The multi–media work was unusual in that nothing touched the floor—everything was hanging from the walls or ceiling. Para–Site featured a number of high–tech gadgets including live video cameras, monitors, mirrors, and chairs, as well as a hole in the wall that showed plumbing and wiring. The cameras were set to capture images from other parts of the building, including the museum's escalators, as a comment on the nature of modern society. Critics gave the project cautious praise.

Another pivotal early work was the design for a private home called Slow House in 1989. The home was to be located on the ocean in Long Island, New York, and built for a Japanese art investor. Because of his financial issues, only the foundation was built, but it still became part of the Museum of Modern Art's collection. Diller + Scofidio designed a house that was shaped like a crescent with a glass wall at one end. A video camera was set up to record the view which could be re–played on the window. This would allow the home to always be sunny.

In the 1990s, Diller + Scofidio continued to explore the tension between architecture and art. While they were both considered highbrow artists, they were also highly reputable architects. This success led to such honors as a media residency at the Centre for New Media Research at the Banff Centre for the Arts from 1993–95. Throughout the decade, their works were commissioned for or shown at leading art institutions, and toured around the world.

In 1991, Diller + Scofidio created Tourism: SuitCase Studies, which was originally displayed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It consisted of 50 suitcases—all the same gray–colored Samsonite pieces—hung up, one for each of the United States. Each suitcase represented one state and was opened to reveal small items inside including tourist attractions and historical figures.

Two years later, the pair created a controversial instillation located outside of New York City's Rialto Theatre, a former pornographic theater. As part of the 42nd Street Project, Diller + Scofidio did Soft Sell on commission. Soft Sell featured a pair of big red lipsticked lips projected via video image on the exterior of the theater. The lips uttered phrases such as "Wanna buy a new lifestyle?" to passersby.

Another significant work for Diller + Scofidio was Bad Press, a 1993 gallery installation that toured through 1996. This work featured 18 men's white shirts ironed into individualistic shapes and displayed on ironing boards, with text. This was another work that commented on domesticity.

Diller + Scofidio continued to push the barriers of their art into other mediums. In the mid–1990s, they published two books. The 1994 tome, Back to the Front, to which they contributed two multi–media projects and also edited and designed, focused on the link between summer travel and war as conquest, and explored related architecture. They followed this with Flesh: Architectural Probes in 1995. In 1997, Diller + Scofidio created a series of drinking glasses called Vice–Virtue Glasses, each about a different drug and a means of taking it.

In 1998, Diller + Scofidio moved into theater performance pieces with Jet Lag. Originally presented at the Lantaren Theater in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and later staged Off–Broadway, Jet Lag consisted of two stories. One focused on the true story of a grandmother who wanted to obtain custody of her grandson from his father, and took him on 167 trans–Atlantic flights to keep him. Jet Lag focuses on their stops in airports. The other story was about a sailor who went alone on an around–the–world yacht race and filmed himself. His footage was projected as part of Jet Lag.

While Diller + Scofidio explored other mediums, they continued to create installations for museums and galleries. In 1998, they did The American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Lawn, about the meaning of lawns in American life and how unnatural lawns can really be. More unusual was 1999's piece, Master/Slave, originally displayed in France. The pair used a toy robot collection lined up on a 300–foot–long conveyor belt that moved along and passed through an airport security device. The robots were videotaped by security cameras, and the images appeared on monitors located in other parts of the gallery. Such works led to the MacArthur Foundation giving Diller + Scofidio a $375,000 grant in 1999 to continue their work.

After the grant, Diller + Scofidio began designing more traditional architecture works, including buildings and interiors, albeit with their unconventional touch. In 2000, they renovated a restaurant in New York City called the Brassiere. Already a modernist place, they balanced their art with clients' needs. Among their touches was having video screens above the bar airing the entrance of each patron. Diller + Scofidio also created a low–income housing project in Gifu, Japan, which personalized the often limited space of public housing, and with others, a controversial viewing platform on Fulton Street in Lower Manhattan to give viewers a closer look at Ground Zero after the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center disaster.

A more challenging and high profile project was the Blur Building created on Yverdon–les–Bains over Lake Neuchatel for the Swiss Expo in 2002. Diller + Scofidio worked for two years to create the unusual space. The Blur Building consisted of a steel structure that people could walk into and be inside a misty cloud as the structure was surrounded by fog–creating water nozzles. It was later the subject of a 2002 book by Diller + Scofidio entitled Blur: the making of nothing.

At the time, the Blur Building was considered to be Diller + Scofidio's defining work, but they soon received commissions to design larger projects such as the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Eyebeam Museum of Art and Technology in New York City, as well as smaller works such as a permanent installation in the John F. Kennedy International Airport and helping with the master plan for a cultural district around the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Of their work and influence, Parsons School of Design architecture department chairman Peter Wheelwright told Peter Marks of the New York Times, "The thing about Liz and Ric that makes them as important as they are becoming is they have been in the forefront of thinking about architecture as a social product."

Selected works

Diller (solo)

(With James Holl and Kaylynn Sullivan) "Civic Plots," Art on the Beach, Battery Park City Landfill, New York, NY, 1983.

Diller + Scofidio

The Rotary Notary and His Hot Plate, or a Delay in Glass, 1986.

The WithDrawing Room, San Francisco, CA, 1986.

Para–Site, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 1989.

Slow House, Long Island, NY, 1989.

SuitCase Studies, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, 1991.

Soft Sell, outside of Rialto Theatre, New York, NY, 1993.

Bad Press, Richard Anderson, New York City, 1994, and other locations, 1993–96.

Pageant, Johannesburg Biennial and Rotterdam Film Festival, 1996.

Moving Targets (set), 1996.

Vice–Virtue Glasses, 1997.

Jet Lag, 1998.

The American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Life, Canadian Centre for Architecture, 1998.

Master/Slave, Cartier Foundation, Paris, France, 1999. The Brassiere (restaurant interior), 2000.

The Blur Building, Swiss Expo '02, 2002.

Scanning: The Aberrant Architecture of Diller + Scofidio (retrospective), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, 2003.

Selected writings

Back to the Front, Princeton Architectural Press with F.R.A.C. Basse–Normandie, 1994.

Flesh: Architectural Probes, Princeton Architectural Press, 1995.

Blur: the making of nothing, Abrams, 2002.



Architecture, June 2000, p. 129.

Artforum International, June 2003, p. 180.

Art in America, May 1994, p. 114; October 2003, p. 90.

Boston Globe, April 6, 2003, p. N8.

Interior Design, January 1, 2003, p. 166.

Newsweek, March 17, 2003, p. 64.

New York Times, December 10, 1981, p. C10; February 3, 1983, p. C18; July 31, 1983, section 2, p. 25; July 21, 1989, p. C30; August 1, 1993, section 2, p. 34; July 10, 1994, section 2, p. 30; July 13, 1984, p. C22; May 23, 2001, p. E1; November 10, 2002, section 2, p. 34; February 16, 2003, section 6, p. 36; February 28, 2003, p. E2.

Time, February 14, 2000, p. 85.

Washington Post, March 30, 2003, p. G1.


"Diller + Scofidio," Gallery MA, http://www.toto.co.jp/GALLERMA/hist/en/biogra/diller.htm (February 9, 2004).

"Diller & Scofidio, Top Architectural Team, Speaks at Free Lecture April 14 at NJIT," New Jersey Institute of Technology, http://www.njit.edu/old/News/Releases/345.html (February 9, 2004).

"Elizabeth Diller," Princeton University, http://www.princeton.edu/cgi–bin/Phone/phonecg.pl?Qname=elizabeth+diller (February 9, 2004.)

"Howard Johnson, Diller + Scofidio awarded Arts Council Prizes," TechTalk, http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/tt/1999/oct27/artscami.html (February 9, 2004).

"Princeton Architect, Four Ph.D. Alumni are Among This Year's MacArthur Fellows," Princeton University, http://www.princeton.edu/pr/news/99/q2/0623–macarthur.htm (February 9, 2004).

"Thinking about architecture," Princeton Weekly Bulletin, http://www.princeton.edu/pr/pwb/00/0327/p/archit.shtml (February 9, 2004).

A. Petruso

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