ENVIRONMENTS

DRAPE WALL | DRAPE HOUSE
Drape Wall is a shapely structural prototype with big possibilities that, in the riveted eyes of the jury, are likely to get even bigger. “This system can be expanded into an architectural proposal,” Tsurumaki said (a prospect that, it turns out, is already in the works). The wall is built from a modular series of interlocking plastic pieces, or “bricks,” as design partners Marc Swackhamer and Blair Satterfield refer to them.

The system includes four types of bricks, vacuum-formed to correspond to their function: Exterior bricks stack up to create a strong outer shell, half-size interior bricks lock the exterior bricks together, perforated window bricks can be positioned to admit desired amounts of light, and storage bricks have cavities for putting things away.

A zippered fabric membrane fastened to the interior wall—the eponymous drape, or quilt—animates the ensemble. Its waterproof zippers open and close to control the passage of light and air through the bricks’ apertures and, for neat freaks, to reach the storage pockets that help keep clutter off the floor. The quilt has two layers, one to block invading air and noise and the other to fend off water; the designers call it a kind of “smart wallpaper.” Its future prospects call for luminescent fabrics to light the interior at night and recharge during the day through photovoltaic paint or batteries printed on its surface. It may also incorporate aerogel, a super-light, super-insulating substance, for greater thermal protection. Tubes for radiant heat and cooling could be sewn in alongside electrical wiring.

Swackhamer and Satterfield spent years researching ways to create porous structures that breathe by convection before they arrived at the final design, which makes the passive flow of air easy to manipulate. In addition to fulfilling their wish to contribute to the possibilities for green housing—no Freon necessary!—the wall exemplifies easy, affordable production and assembly, mobility, lightness, and strength in shelter. “It’s very process-driven and very clear in how its concept was developed,” Dubbeldam said.

Engineering studies contributed by University of Minnesota students suggest that, with certain changes in the modules’ shapes, the wall could lose its aluminum frame and support itself in its planned progression into the Drape House. Its pieces are lightweight, so its ability to be erected without heavy equipment would make it ideal as a reusable temporary shelter. “Its ambitions are broad,” Tsurumaki said.

The more the jurors looked, the more they liked the concept. “It’s not just a one-liner of formal manipulations,” said Rosa. “It’s so highly constructed internally, almost like the inside of a couture gown.”

Dubbeldam had to agree: “Very Comme des Garcons.”

THE NEW RISD LIBRARY
Inside a historic bank hall in downtown Providence, two new birch-plywood pavilions by Boston’s Office dA provide study and service spaces for the Rhode Island School of Design’s new library. One, a “study island,” lifts an open reading room toward the hall’s coffered ceiling by means of a broad amphitheater-type stair. The other pavilion serves as a circulation and reference desk, with a lounge area set between the two structures. The jurors liked the design’s spatial husbandry, its introduction of new forms into a historic setting, and the ways it mediates between the grand and human scales. Dubbledam lauded the general form more than she did the material quality, which she called “very thin…a little disappointing in points.” Tsurumaki took the opposite view, championing the way the structures engage their purposes, as seen even in details such as letterforms die-cut into the wall panels. “What appear to be monolithic elements show variation at the microscale as they transform in uses,” he said.

IANN/STOLTZ COTTAGE
Deliberate ambiguities suffuse this 1906 earthquake refugee cottage in San Francisco, which was rebuilt by local architecture firm Kuth/Ranieri to hold a gallery and entertainment space with guest rooms. The blurring starts with an outer skin of translucent corrugated fiberglass, which changes character as daylight shifts and emits a glow from within at night, like a lantern. Inside, architecture and furniture dissolve into one another; the wall of a stairway, covered in ridges of industrial wool felt, becomes the back of an L-shaped bench on the upper floor. Photographic images of pleated and gathered fabric have been distorted and turned into wallpaper, amplifying the staggered depths of the wall surfaces. “They’re getting a fair amount of complexity in a limited space,” Tsurumaki observed. Rosa especially liked the distinction between the flat perimeter walls (for art) and the folds complicating the building’s core (for living areas). “Anything that comes into the middle of the space is a literal fold or the representation of a fold,” Rosa said, “which is a really strong idea.”

THE COUCH: THINKING IN REPOSE
Sigmund Freud would have been 150 last year. To celebrate, the Sigmund Freud Museum, housed within the psychiatrist’s former office and living space in Vienna, mounted the exhibit “The Couch.” The museum gathered artifacts—an Otto Wagner daybed, a shock therapy apparatus, clips of Andy Warhol’s 1964 film Couch—for which Pentagram created a novel display system: An elevated platform into which lighted recesses were carved and display cases were placed, alluding to psychoanalysis as an excavation process. Dubbeldam liked the projections of Freud’s Asian carpets onto the platform, which reinforced the odd dematerializing effect the floor lighting had on the exhibition material. Tsurumaki admired the surprising shift of hierarchy in the objects’ placement. “Usually, exhibition design is about elevating the object,” he said. “This is an interesting inversion.”

ONE PERCENT PRODUCTS
“You might pass this by without ever knowing how it was done,” Tsurumaki remarked, awestruck by Nendo’s design for One Percent Products’ booth at the 2006 International Furniture Fair in Tokyo. Inside the exhibition hall, the ceilings rose too high for dramatic spotlighting; the usual solution, mounting spots on partition walls or poles, meant clutter where the company wanted openness. So Nendo, which owns One Percent Products, invented ink-printed film sheets that adhered to the floor to mimic the shadow effects of multiple lights playing on the objects from above. It’s an amazingly subtle, surrealistic take on trompe l’oeil. “The means are so minimal,” Tsurumaki said. In such a vast space, Rosa added, “The shadow is as important as the object.”

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