In the Studio: Huy Bui: Structures for Hope and Survival


Plant-in City, Moss, 2012, 48″ x 18″ x 24″, Installation, Huy Bui

The artist Huy Bui says it best:

We are living in precarious times where human greed, stupidity and ignorance threaten the existence of all life on Earth.  It is our moment as humans to reflect on ourselves and confront a destination once thought as fiction that is now our probable future. The sixth extinction is in progress but our potential to problem solve is remarkable.  Our actions and policies in the next generation will determine the fate of species for thousands of years to come, if not millions.  

Huy Bui’s work pushes towards what he calls “Art and Architecture in the Anthropocene.” His body of work weaves thoughts of utopia and dystopia into his built environments. His recent show at the Cooler Gallery, “A Structure for Hope and Survival,” explores the unfathomable possibility of mass extinction and how one might prepare for that outcome. Bui’s current installation “Vertical Landscapes,” is a model of creating human built natural/ watershed systems. These structures are inspired by the works of Superstudio and Archigram’s in the 60’s. Their works were projections of radical architecture and concepts that questioned the morality of modern architecture in relationship to capitalism and the bourgeoisie.


Plant-in City, Vertical Garden, 2014, 8′ x 4′ x 2′, Installation, Dominic Neitz

Bui is a Designer-in-Residence at the A/D/O Workspace, a creative space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that explores new directions in design. The Retail Shop at A/D/O commissioned Bui’s “Vertical Landscapes,” Plant-in City’s first digitally-fabricated installation, made of laser cut teak/wood frames, brass hardware and 3D printed infrastructure/components. The installation integrates a series of Plant-in Grid TOPO and Air Terrariums arranged in a vertical core that spans the floor to ceiling glass storefront at the A/D/O Retail Shop. Huy’s project aligns retail and fine art fabrication. The Plant-in TOPO’s are available as a single stackable modular terrarium, and measures at 12 x 4.5 x 6 inches. The Air Terrariums are 12 x 3 x 3 inches.

Huy Bui’s history as a Vietnamese heritage artist born in Paris, raised in Washington, D. C., and educated, in part, at Parsons School of Design has many layers ( .  The class he taught at Parsons, Design Build, produced sustainable bamboo public seating for the New School and the New York Department of Transportation  (DOT). This has led to his present exhibition, studio, and design position at A/D/O. Andrew, the retail shop manager, tells me, “Artists bring the human element to something – a more emotional or personal touch.” The A/D/O space is a former bakery that now hosts a huge restaurant, a design store, spaces for meetings and conferences, a studio/fabrication area, and more. The large open central spaces with circular skylights were developed by architects Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang of Narchitects ( . The building received the Municipal Art Society of New York 2017 Best Adaptive Use Award. The innovative indoor design innovations were by MOS architects Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample (

Plant-in City, Moss, 2012, 48″ x 18″ x 24″, Installation, Huy Bui

Huy’s Plant-in City Vertical Landscapes Garden System offers a design for living that combines digital fabrication, modular installation, and a creative union of nature, architecture, and mixed use space and shelving. The entire installation  is 113” tall x 73” wide x 24” deep, and it includes  Grid Topo watersheds that Bui is developing. Simply put, the grid structure is built on a grade to let water flow down its length. Bui’s  studio prototypes have tiny square areas with even tinier plants. The models were built using cardboard, wood, and plastic formed in the 3-D printers nearby. The teak full-sized units will be made using a laser-cutting machine that is also nearby.


Geological Frame, 2016, 12″ x 3″ x 3″ – Wood and Brass, Huy Bui

Bui’s ongoing work and collaboration – Plant-in City – explores the cross-section of Plants, Architecture and Technology.  His work with Patrick Parrish Gallery – Geological Frame – looks at how Earth’s artifacts reveal the relationship between topography and the industrial hand of humans.  Bui is a visiting faculty member at Parsons the New School for Design and teaches advanced product design and Modular Ecology.


Beyond 0 – A Structure for Hope and Survival, June 2017, 6′ x 6′ x 6′ – Installation, Michael Yarinsky

Even though he was not born in Vietnam, Bui’s family had the privilege of departing before the Viet Cong took over the capital Saigon in April, 1975. He told me, “My grandfather was a successful businessman in Vietnam and could afford to send his children (father) overseas for a western education. My other grandfather (mother’s father) was a high level government official in Vietnam and lost his power and influence after the fall of Vietnam. He fled to Paris France, spoke flawless French but ended up in a limited bureaucratic legal role. The war affected my grandparents’ generation the hardest. My father was in his mid-twenties when he arrived in the States and received an education from U.S.C and adapted very well. My mother worked for the World Bank for several decades and both of them rarely spoke of the war. Most Vietnamese families don’t like to talk about it.” Bui at first majored in business administration at George Mason University and spent six years as a mortgage broker. At 28, he shifted directions by going to grad school at Parsons, where he began his education in Architecture. His practice now explores the nexus of plants, architecture, and technology – “merging them into an interactive installation…At 42, I consider myself an early career artist.”

“The macro topics I’m touching on,” Bui continued, “are what it means to terraform – to manipulate the land – it’s a conversation for big science; for example, we look at Mars as a potential habitat and how terraforming the planet is one solution. The Anthropocene is a new geological epoch, where man has the largest influence in global ecology. The geological records are a time capsule of our planetary history written in sand and stone. We find ourselves at the apex of human development that is destroying Earth at an accelerated pace, leading toward the sixth extinction. Are we at a point in human history where we have to create / terraform nature to survive? My explorations are investigating nature in deep geological time.” Visit the Bui’s website and his installation at A/D/O to learn more!

By Jan Garden Castro

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