Camera Obscura, Mitchell Park Phase 2, Greenport, NY, 2005


Location: New York, New York
Click above to view the full-size image

SHoP is a New York design firm that has been instrumental in a reevaluation of the entire building process. A leader in the current digital generation of architects, SHoP employs digital technology as a tool to build efficiently while creating structures that reflect architecture’s precision and worksmanship.

In 2005, SHoP completed its first digitally designed, computer-fabricated building, in the village of Greenport, New York. The Camera Obscura (“dark room” in Latin) is a 350-square-foot building that acts like a camera. A live image of the Camera’s surroundings is projected through an optical lens and a mirror onto a flat circular table that is raised or lowered to adjust focal depth. It can focus on all the buildings and elements in Mitchell Park and across Long Island Sound. The Camera is composed of 750 custom parts accompanied by a set of instructions, much like a model-airplane kit. Primary aluminum and steel components were laser-cut using digital files directly extracted from the computer model, with crucial information etched into the components for ease of fabrication. SHoP employs the same 3-D software as its engineers and fabricators, allowing them to communicate with each other more directly and seamlessly.

Most of the fabrication took place offsite and the pieces later bolted into the concrete foundation and to each other. The subtly warped exterior skin, milled in a single morning, makes the entire structure look like a hovering horseshoe crab.

SHoP was founded in 1996 by five graduates of Columbia University’s School of Architecture whose education and experience encompass architecture, fine arts, structural engineering, finance, and business management. Although Camera Obscura is a relatively modest project compared to others currently in its office, including Brown University’s Jonathon Nelson Fitness Center and the academic building and master plan for New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, it exemplifies SHoP’s strong commitment to research and development as well as built work. The firm is incorporating leading-edge technologies that ultimately enable them to do more with less.