An ongoing series dedicated to sharing your secret thoughts when you saw that last project by what’s their face and felt shame for them; when you know they’re making that shit up on the fly, or worse, when they believe it; when the words are English but have been coded beyond understanding; and when your initial reaction to a project is an eye roll, guffaw, disillusion, and/or cynicism; and all you can think is “uhhmm.. wha’??”
In short, no, your reaction wasn’t uneducated, dumb, incorrect, course, or unique—we all thought it, we don’t get it, and we’re pretty sure it doesn’t make sense to start. In shorter short, we’re embracing that most ubiquitous of hipster notions: we’re over it.
I’m going attempt writing this episode of What the huh?? whilst also avoiding being blacklisted by a certain grad school. […awkward…] But this pavilion is too good to pass up, and offers this most critical axiom for all designers: the idea may be absolutely astounding and beautiful… but the project has got to werk. (You know, like, WERK.)
Every year SCI-Arc builds a pavilion—or rather they commission Oyler Wu Collaborative to design-build a pavilion—in their parking lot for the graduation ceremony/end of year party. Fabulous. For the past two years, the installation was the interesting Netscape (2011), a 10’ deep, three-dimensional system of knitted chord and canvas louvers, netted around a large, permanent, steel structure.
(NB: Oyler Wu designed the canvas louvers to shield the crowd from direct sun on graduation day while providing a clear view of the eastern sky. So great.)
For this year’s party, Oyler Wu built Stormcloud… which looks nothing like a storm cloud (even if you squint and think metaphorically), and instead resembles something closer to what might result if a sea sponge mated with…a train wreck.
The ominously named pavilion consists of large fabric panels stretched over the steel structure’s upper regions and then, effectively, hung underneath it, pinched together with bent steel tubing. The “unexpected volumetric presence” that appears is a mangled, taught, twisted mess, effortlessly floating over the parking lot, trailing loose canvas ‘funnels’ (utters, practically) that, well, resemble some kind of large proboscis or protruding suction cups.
Shockingly, the firm—and the students that helped them—encountered “difficult patterning problems” when trying to transition the form of the spandex-wrapped steel frame into neat circular cones. (Really, I think I’m going to have a heart attack and die from that surprise.) So, they used bent steel tubing to create “eccentric” loops that made up for all the excess canvass….
.... nice ....
While, conceivably, this 'eccentricity' would have made the funnels more interesting, their application appears to have done nothing, formally speaking, except make cute cut outs at eye level, for us to look up. Instead of becoming interesting and dare I say gorgeously articulated forms, the canvass is stretched tight only between the different articulations in the tubing. Bummer.
But I for one am relieved—so often do I think to myself: wouldn’t it be neat to look right up into the body part of some odd sea creature, so conveniently hovering above my face, and try to avoid the sneaking suspicion that it is, in fact, somehow inappropriate at the same time.
Then, there’s this brilliant paragraph that, evidently, is talking about a different, totally mind blowing project that I’m dying to see:
“One of the more striking features of the scheme is the oscillation between the reading of lines (in the structural system), surface (revealed at the base of the funnels), and volume (most present in the overall external view of the pavilion). What begins as a reading of volume ultimately reveals a system of deep spatial cavities through which an intricate structural system moves in and out of view.”
First of all, I love the verb oscillate. I think it’s beautiful, like the ocean, or awesome atmospheric synth music. It’s also how I imagine Oyler Wu was hoping the funnels would turn out with their ‘eccentric’ tubing (that totally solved there “difficult patterning problems”, as you recall).
Second, I’m in love with this second sentence, for the most part. Except that the “deep spatial cavities” and glimpses of the pavilion’s steel skeleton feels more like looking up a project’s skirt—instead of mastery and intentionality, what I suspect is accident, ease of fabrication, and a lot of crossing fingers.
Not that I don’t want to see the structure at all—truly I think it could have been so so fascinating. But instead it feels like that star-nosed mole might have been involved in the canvas measurements and installation. Admittedly, from some very specific angles and with careful lighting, the project looks much better than it is and is pretty photogenic, but it still reminds me more of a creature from a sci movie with big swinging undercarriage than a ‘stormcloud’… We want more! And I think Design deserves more.
All in all, I saw a headline for this project and got so excited. Oyler Wu continues to produce fascinating, relevant, exquisite projects, and I am a big fan. (Also anything with “storm cloud” in the title piques my attention and imagination.) But when I saw this ad hoc pavilion I thought, “what? Ehhh…. awe, no. Try harder. ”