Elizabeth Diller, Visionary and MacArthur Fellow

b. 1954

Elizabeth Diller in 2012
Elizabeth Diller in 2012. Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Art Basel Miami 2012/©2012 Getty Images (cropped)

Liz Diller is always sketching, according to The Wall Street Journal. She uses colored pencils, black Sharpies, and rolls of tracing paper to capture her ideas. Elizabeth E. Diller and her partner-husband, Ricardo Scofidio, received the first MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant in the field of architecture. Their inventive work expands the notion of art and architecture.

Born: 1954 in Poland

Education and Profession:

  • 1979: B. Arch., Cooper Union School of Architecture
  • 1979 - present: partner with Ricardo Scofidio, now diller scofidio + renfro
  • 1981 - 1990: Cooper Union School of Architecture, assistant professor
  • 1990 - present: Princeton University, Professor of Architectural Design

Important Works:

Note: Learn more about these projects at DS+R.

  • 1981: Plywood House, Briar Cliff Manor, NY
  • 2000: Slither Housing, Gifu, Japan
  • 2000: Brasserie, restaurant redesign in the Seagrams Building, NYC (James Beard Foundation Award for Best New Restaurant Design)
  • 2001: Temporary Viewing Platform for the World Trade Center Site, NYC
  • 2002: Blur Building, Swiss Expo 2002, Lake Neuchatel, Switzerland (Progressive Architecture Design Award)
  • 2006: Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA
  • 2009-2015: High Line, elevated rail line preserved as park land, in three phases, NYC
  • 2009: Lincoln Center Redesign (Alice Tully Hall, Juilliard School), NYC
  • 2010: Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, Brown University , Providence, RI
  • 2014: Broad Art Museum, Los Angeles, CA
  • 2014: Museum of Image and Sound, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • 2015: Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley, CA
  • 2016: Medical Center, Columbia University, NYC
  • 2016: "The Corset," 15 Hudson Yards Tower D (72-story residential), New York City

    Installations and Exhibits:

    • 1991: Tourisms: Suitcase Studies, Walker Art, Minneapolis, MN
    • 1999: Master / Slave, Fondation Cartier, Paris, France
    • 2003: Scanning: The Aberrant Architectures of Diller + Scofidio, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC
    • 2004: Facsimile, Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco, CA

    Theoretical (Unbuilt) Works:

    • 1991: Slow House, North Haven, NY
    • 2001: Two-Way Hotel, Hong Kong
    • 2004: Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, NYC
    • 2007: Phantom House, New York Times
    • 2007: Midtown Residential Tower, NYC
    • 2007: Hudson Rail Yards Mixed Use, NYC
    • 2013: Hirshhorn Bubble, Washington, D.C. The project—a seasonal, inflatable structure—was officially cancelled on June 5, 2013. Read more from the Washington City Paper Arts Desk.

    Related People:

    • Ricardo Scofidio, AIA: Bachelor of Architecture from Columbia; founding partner of diller scofidio + renfro
    • Charles Renfro, AIA: Master of Architecture from Columbia; joined diller scofidio in 1997; became partner in 2004
    • Benjamin Gilmartin, AIA: Master of Architecture from Harvard University; joined diller scofidio + renfro in 2004; became principal in 2011

    Significant Awards (with Scofidio):

    • 1999: MacArthur Foundation Fellowship
    • 2003: Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize, American Academy of Arts and Letters
    • 2005: National Design Award in Architecture from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
    • 2010: Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) International Fellowship
    • 2008: American Academy of Arts and Sciences

    In the Words of Elizabeth Diller:

    "Aside from keeping the rain out and producing some usable space, architecture is nothing but a special-effects machine that delights and disturbs the senses."—2007, TED talk

    "We take site specificity very, very seriously."—2007 Aspen Festival, Architecture Lecture Series

    "So we've been eating, drinking, thinking, living public space for quite a long time. And it's taught us really one thing, and that is to truly make good public space, you have to erase the distinctions between architecture, urbanism, landscape, media design and so on. It really goes beyond distinction.

    "—2012, TED talk

    "We're trying to destigmatize the notion of the unnatural. We think the future really is about trying to find interesting synthetic blends."—2007 Aspen Festival

    About Blur:

    The Blur Building was an "experiment in deemphasis on an environmental scale." The six month installation was a fog-like structure created by jets of water being blown into the sky above a Swiss lake. Diller describes it as a cross between "a building and weather front." As a person walked into the Blur, this "architecture of atmosphere" erased the occupant's visual and acoustic cues—"stepping into a medium that's formless, featureless, depthless, scaleless, massless, surfaceless, and dimensionless."

    About the Artist-Architect:

    Some of Elizabeth Diller's dreams are actually created (e.g., the Blur Building) but many remain theoretical ideas (e.g., the Braincoat was to be worn while experiencing the Blur Building). Her ideas often are realized through collaboration. The High Line was designed with landscape architects. The WTC platform was built with the Rockwell Group. Honeybee Robotics helped install the robot drill for the Whitney Museum installation retrospective. A weather station was built to regulate the water flow of the Blur Building installation.

    Diller Scofidio + Renfro combine art and architecture, blurring any definitive lines that may separate media, medium, and structure.

    Related Books and Films:

    • Flesh: Architectural Probes by Elizabeth Diller, Princeton Architectural Press, 1995
    • Blur: The Making of Nothing by Elizabeth Diller, Abrams, 2002
    • Diller + Scofidio (+Renfro): The Ciliary Function by Guido Incerti, Daria Ricchi, and Deane Simpson, Skira, 2007
    • Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Architecture after Images by Edward Dimendberg, University of Chicago Press, 2013
    • Lincoln Center Inside Out by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, Damiani, 2013
    • Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Reimagining Lincoln Center and the High Line, Checkerboard Films, 2012

    Sources: DS+R; Diller Scofidio + Renfro, The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at www.icaboston.org/about/thenewica/ds-r-profile/; "Picturing Failure, Sketching Dreams" by Ellen Gamerman, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 9, 2010; The Aspen Institute; Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) talks: "Liz Diller plays with architecture"; "Liz Diller: A giant bubble for debate" [websites accessed March 12, 2013]