Architecture

Architect Greta Hansen Tweaks the Establishment with Wolfgang & Hite

Eva Hagberg

Photography by Eva O'Leary

greta-hansen

Greta Hansen is serious. The multi-hyphenate—she’s teaching at Pratt, designing a dispensary in New Jersey and a streetwear shop in Atlanta, and producing a line of sex toys based both aesthetically and economically on Hudson Yards—is working on projects that might seem all about ironic sidelong glances or the occasional lol. But that’s not what her work is about, and it’s certainly not what her firm, Wolfgang & Hite (the ampersand is meaningful, but we’ll get to that), is interested in Hansen is the founder and operator of a tightly-run coworking/ collaborative space in Chinatown, New York, and an alum of the Rockwell Group, where she learned to do the kinds of interiors that get her excited, now, about doing small hospitality projects. “I like restaurants—the space is so dynamically activated at every minute,” she says. She’s also a keen observer of the fact that Thomas Heatherwick’s much-discussed Vessel is, when brought down to 1:1200 scale (in which one inch = a hundred feet), the perfect shape and size for a diva cup.

It’s easy to see the one-to-one joke about making Hudson Yards towers into dildos. Aren’t all skyscrapers sort of phallic? Think of pretty much any tall tower in New York, or any of the supertalls, and it’s easy in the year of our Lord 2019 to roll your eyes and be like, “goddamn men.” But that’s also not the point of Hansen’s design, nor of her critique. Her point with the dildos is more about money and civic design, because, as she points out, this industrial productive space at Hudson Yards has no real purpose despite being perhaps “the most prominent development in the city, arguably the world, at least in terms of finances,” and so when she and her team were figuring out what to charge for the set, they referred to the construction cost, which was around, roughly, she estimated (because those figures will never be available), about $1300/1400sf. So that’s what the set ideally will cost.

That’s the small scale, and Hansen is excited about getting into more products and objects. But she’s also a registered architect in New York, no small feat, and is using that experience and education—half a very pragmatic undergrad degree she obtained at the University of Cincinnati and half a theoretically-inspired run around Columbia GSAPP when, as she tells it, Bernard Tschumi and Mark Wigley were making the now-passé claim that architecture did not equal buildings (full disclosure: I teach at Columbia GSAPP and have found the school to be, perhaps newly, extremely interested in buildings)—to work on a dispensary in New Jersey, whose design shifts along with the laws (marijuana is currently legal for medical use and may possibly soon be legalized for recreational) and that streetwear shop. The dispensary is both a logistical challenge— think about laws, how they change; security, how to make it less awful; circulation, in terms of air—and also a formal one. Wolfgang & Hite are looking into using hempcrete, a relatively new interpretation of an old material—Hansen is from Kentucky, incidentally, where hemp has been a longstanding industry. In Atlanta, the firm is repurposing ductwork and bringing it into the clothing and shoe displays, which are variegated and visually punchy.

Hansen says she used to listen to dense philosophy books while working on red-lining AutoCAD drawings. “I still kind of feel like there’s a separation in my head, and that the visual side is kind of stepping on the foot of the other,” she says. We’re talking about writing and thinking and language and various types thereof, and she says she purposefully used an ampersand for her firm, which she runs with her partner in work and life Shan Raoufi, because so many architects use pluses. There is a dissertation to be written about ampersands versus pluses, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Hansen suddenly turned around and wrote one. Her casualness belies an incredibly deep well of intense thoughtfulness, of a willingness to look at an image and think about what it means, and then think again, and then link it to history, and politics, and economics and then think about it more. In other words, she’s serious. But she’s also come to play.