Experimental Architecture Exhibit Looks Sensational

Matters of Sensation show at Artists Space: Alice (orange,
on wall) by FPmod; rubber mats by MOS (floor)

September 25, 2008. Good-looking and smart too, architecture exhibition Matters of Sensation will be on show at New York’s Artists Space gallery through November 22. An eclectic gathering of biomorphic experiments and installations – the model of an entire Corian-clad house, an iridescent shell lit and ventilated from within, nubbly rubber rugs, elaborately folded “bricks” that were 3D-printed from a mixture of aluminum and nylon, a cursive acrylic armature – are more than just eye candy; they are actually displayed strategically, by genus and species. Co-curator Marcelo Spina (with Georgina Huljich) explains. artistsspace.com, p-a-t-t-e-r-n-s.net

You prefer to show images of the show with the pieces installed together as an "ecology" of architectural experiments. How do they form an "ecology" when installed together?

In displaying the objects in the show, we wanted to produce an ecology of sensation, a sort of affective ecosystem where things could be looked at at close range, where the sense of sight operates just like the sense of touch. The importance was to perceive the work in a holistic manner rather than as individual and isolated pieces, sort of like saying: This is more than a few pieces; it is a whole sensibility about form, materiality, texture, light, contrast, etc…, to look at it as a family and not as individual pieces. But we also did not want to design an overwhelming display system, but rather position the objects according to spatial arrangements, either through association of color, technique, effect or opposition. It was also important to change scales as much as possible, so certain objects would require closer scrutiny and others like Florencia Pita’s [bright orange CNC-milled foam Alice by FPmod] could be seen everywhere and many pieces would collapse with it spatially, like the flying green Octopus [a study model for the Queen Museum of Art expansion by Gnuform]. There is also the ambiguity of the materiality emerging from materials and their plasticity: objects that look plastic but are made of aluminum [murmur’s Bioform wall piece] and objects that are plastic but look like aluminum [Xefirotarch’s Pitch Black spiders]. One is more of a field and module-based; the other is more figural and free, and suggests movement, but they both suggest molding and plasticity in their materiality.

Each of the pieces seems to have some story of innovation behind it, an innovation of material or production process/technology. Is this the case?

All of the projects deal with innovation in different ways. For instance, Bioform – a wall piece made from a single module that rotates into three positions – uses for its fabrication a cutting-edge manufacturing method call “superforming,” AKA “super plastic,” which is used by the automotive and aeronautic industry to make very sophisticated and expensive parts. The process consists of making thin sheets of aluminum molded, under huge air pressure, like plastic. This is of course very expensive, and the more expensive part is to make the mold, which has to be CNC [computer numerically controlled] milled out of steel, and is then used to make thousands of self-similar parts. Hence the modularity of Bioform, which is a collaboration between mumur’s Heather Roberge and the Southern California based company Superform. The implications of this technology for the building industry are very significant.

Klex by ruyklein is all about symmetry and its possibilities for the production of manifold formal variations, as well as meanings, since the original symmetrical patterns imitate the Rorschach test. The question here is less material than it is formal, and how that super intricate geometry can be directly translated into material form, without the need of assembly, discretization, or any other reductive means. Those pieces are made of metalized 3D printed nylon directly from a 3D model, and they are as solid as a concrete block.

In 7 masses for instance, a network of LED light is embedded within a molded white [Dupont now famous ubiquitous material] Corian Surface so as to coincide and further emphasize fenestration. The somewhat random and yet mathematically calculated pattern is the result of a collaboration between davidclovers and digital artist Casey Reas. The result is a quiet innovative use of light [and possibly emergent technologies] within a conventional architectural problem such as a façade, and how to make a hole, and opening; how deep will it be, and whether light will filter in or out of it. Furthermore, how a an entire region of the façade can become more porous, so windows are not just random cuts but they appear as deep figural marks within an otherwise solid mass.

Although the show is in New York, there is a strong group of Los Angeles studios included like davidclovers, Emergent, FPmod, Hirsuta, murmur, Sotamaa and Xefirotarch. What type of architecture is coming out of L.A. that we should be paying attention to?

This is a very interesting question, and one that we were asked many times. First, Georgina and I, and our office PATTERNS are, of course, based in Los Angeles, so we know a lot of people here. Second, I think the problem of fabrication, material and materiality [the effects of material] has been explored in the last few years far more on the West Coast than anywhere else in the US. Having said that, materiality and sensation is not an exclusive problem to any region or even school and you have people in Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and elsewhere working on similar problems and with similar technologies, which leads to certain idioms and a certain sensibility.

It is already a cliché to say that in Los Angeles you have access to leading fabrication companies derived from the automotive, aeronautic and film industries and, because of that, you have architects and designers doing all sorts of complex wild works, but it is still a fact. It goes back to the Eames and their plywood experiments, but continues with the work of Frank Gehry, Morphosis and Eric Moss, followed by the enormous influence of Greg Lynn and Neil Denari or even Peter Testa, all the way to our generation, which is the generation of all of the people in Matters of Sensation. What you can expect from LA architects is a certain appetite for the new, for a formal and material innovation in design and architecture, and a renewed optimism in the body.

Rubber mats by MOS (floor); Batwing by Emergent (rear wall)

Bioform (wall) by murmur; Pitch Black by Xefirotarch

Detail: Batwing by Emergent (Tom Wiscombe)

From the Klex series by Ruy Klein

Mass 04 of 07 Masses (sectional study) by davidclovers