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David Brooks Tears the Roof Off

July 13, 2012

What happens when a suburban roof is transplanted to an urban block? In this film, artist David Brooks and a team of fabricators construct Desert Rooftops (2011–12), an Art Production Fund commission for the last undeveloped lot in Manhattan’s Times Square neighborhood. Built on-site by SFDS Fabrication & Design Shop, the “real scale” roofs are modeled after residential homes and manufactured with the same materials and techniques—only without the supporting walls underneath.

Brooks explains how the rambling rooftops are inspired by the housing boom and bust in South Florida, heedlessly encroaching on the protected Everglades like a virus. Seen as a whole, the undulating profile of shingled roofs takes on the appearance of a desert landscape of rolling dunes. Brooks’s humorous critique of McMansion architecture metaphorically links suburban sprawl, a monoculture in which the landscape is dominated and degraded by human development, to the contemporary environmental problem of desertification. Breaking with the resource-devouring logic of home construction, at the project’s completion Brooks and the Art Production Fund recycled all the materials through the non-profit housing organizations Build It Green and Habitat for Humanity.

More information and credits


Art21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Joaquin Perez. Cinematography: Ian Forster, Nicholas Lindner, Amanda Long, Rafael Moreno Salazar, Andrew David Watson & Ava Wiland. Sound: Scott Fernjack, Ian Forster & Wesley Miller. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Production Assistant: Amanda Long & Tida Tippapart. Design & Graphics: Crux Studio & Open. Artwork: David Brooks. Additional Photography: NASA Earth Observatory Collection, SFDS Fabrication & Design Shop, & U.S. Geological Survey. Thanks: Art Production Fund, Yvonne Force Villareal, Jason McCullough, Doreen Remen, SFDS Fabrication & Design Shop, Sotheby’s, The Shubert Organization & Times Square Alliance. An Art21 Workshop Production. © Art21, Inc. 2012. All rights reserved.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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David Brooks

David Brooks was born in 1975 in Brazil, Indiana, and lives and works in New York. Brooks’s work is driven by his interest in the ways in which humans interact with natural and built environments. Working as a volunteer with biologists in the Amazon basin, the artist draws parallels between the scientific process and an artistic desire to understand the world. His projects often bring natural elements into an art context.

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“Desert Rooftops”

David Brooks discusses his public artwork Desert Rooftops, featured in the 2012 New York Close Up film “David Brooks Tears the Roof Off.”

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