2006 Annual Design Review Environments Best of Category

Maximilian’s Schell

Inspired by the least likely of references—legendary actor Maximilian Schell’s appearance in the Disney 1970s sci-fi cult classic The Black Hole—Los Angeles architects Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues created, in the summer of 2005, a “vortex” between two Spanish-colonial houses in Silver Lake. (The project was a temporary installation at the Materials & Applications art gallery, and its short-lived nature presumably obviated the need for building inspectors to see if vortices were permitted under local zoning code.)

Fashioned from a scaly assemblage of 504 CNC-milled parametric Mylar petals, riveted together and reinforced with bundled nylon and Aramid fibers, Maximilian’s Schell is a swirling, shade-providing canopy pitched over an improvised outdoor social and performance space. It drew visitors as through gravity toward the “singularity” of its vortex and animated the entire space through crystalline mutations of available light.

The jury responded not only to the installation’s technological bravura, but also to the integrity of its realization. “So often projects that come out of CAD are all over the place,” Arad observed. “This one has a nice geometry underlying it, and an order and a hierarchy I appreciate.” He also liked that the structure wasn’t based on architectural smoke and mirrors. “Usually in those translations everybody relies on rods and a second armature to create that blobby space.”

Diller, too, was struck by the form. “What seems different here is that the structure is on the petal; the material has enough elasticity to provide the form but also be self-structuring.”

In the end, Maximilian’s Schell was able to beguile the jury as much as it seduced Angelenos. “It’s funny becaue it’s a light funnel but it’s also a shade. It’s like a Klein Bottle,” said Arad, referring to a cousin of the Mobius strip. The colors and materials had him reaching for another comparison, perhaps more befitting of the Los Angeles sunshine. “It reminds me of a pair of Gucci glasses.”

DESIGN Ball-Nogues (Los Angeles): Benjamin Ball, Gaston Nogues, principals
CLIENT Materials & Applications (Los Angeles)
MATERIAL Reinforced Mylar film
SOFTWARE TopSolid, VectorWorks Architect, Easy NT

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