Front Studio’s Ha and Yanagishita at work.
A few minutes before midnight on Tuesday, inside a dark brick building on one of Dumbo’s cobblestoned streets, the floors are sticky with beer and plastered with hundreds of forgotten dollar bills while streaks of hot glue slowly harden on tables under the dimmed lights. What happened here? Of what bacchanal do these artifacts speak? The heat shudders off, the bills softly rustle, and the walls whisper, “architecture.”
This was the site of LVHRD’s ARCH DL V (that’s Architecture Duel V), a battle between Front Studio and Weiss/Manfredi. The money on the floor was fake, but the fight was oh so real. In front of a crowd of a few hundred boozy design nerds (a fun bunch, seriously) a pair of architects from each studio was given a challenge: design and build a holding pen and launch pad on Coney Island to hold Wall Street criminals until they blast off to prison on the moon. Using only Monopoly games.
The teams: Weiss/Manfredi’s Justin Kwok and Alice Chai were blinged out in gold W/$/M medallions and canes. Front Studio’s Yen Ha and Michi Yanagishita shot death stares from under green accountant shades. As they sketched, cut, folded, and glued their models together head to head, neck and neck, we got to watch architecture in action. All buildings, even the most iconic, started somewhere. These humble beginnings are where creativity lives — no clients, no budgets, no physics, no rules, just ideas—and they’re often more interesting than the final product (a few of Frank Gehry’s infamous crumpled-paper models should’ve stayed that way). That’s what was on display on Tuesday.
So onward and upward they built, to a soundtrack of Lil’ Wayne, random techno, and bizarre Paul Simon remixes. When it was all over, Ha and Yanagishita had a golden, celestial arc of Community Chest cards and Monopoly Money while Kwok and Chai were dwarfed by a waterfall of cash pouring over a forest of empty beer bottles. What were they?
Front first. “In a show of unity,” they explained, “France has sent over a giant [dramatic pause] croissant [cheers] in order to transport the criminals safely to outer space.” Talking over shouts of “Vive le Croissant!” from the crowd, Front described the melted butter launch pad, and holding cells protected by flaky, buttery layers. (Ha and Yanagishita are architects by trade, but foodies at heart — read their blog.)
From afar, Weiss/Manfredi’s money waterfall was a big stock market metaphor. Up close, each different-colored section of bills had a purpose — wind turbines, solar panels, urban farming. “It’s LEED certified,” Kwok said, also to cheers from the crowd. The old Coney Island parachute jump was turned into a spaceship hanger, and trained sea monsters provided security.
In the end, W/$/M’s exuberance was no match for Front’s pastry: simple, provocative, layered, and smothered in butter — as all good architecture should be.
The stage. Front on the left, Weiss/Manfredi on the right.
Front Studio’s space croissant.
Weiss/Manfredi’s launch pad.