Sculpting Window Shades and Other Events in Architecture

by Mary Martialay on September 27, 2010

Picture pleated fabric window shades – the semi-opaque accordion pleated update to slated venetian blinds.

 Now looks at this:

Remanufactured Veilscapes sculptures

Recognize anything?

These sculptures are made of humble pleated window shades. The sculptures are on display in the Black Box Gallery, in the School of Architecture’s Green Building through October 25 and they’re worth a look based on the sheer ingenuity they represent with respect to “material research.”

The gallery exhibit (titled “Remanufactured Veilscapes”) kicks off a semester lecture series that continues on October 13, with a lecture by Philip Beesley on “Abject Fertility: Liminal Responsive Architectures,” and culminates on November 8 when acclaimed architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis presents “Questions: On the Continuity of Contradiction.”

The full schedule of events is online at the School of Architecture’s website.

“Remanufactued Veilscapes” presents the results of a design studio lead by Lonn Combs, who recently joined Rensselaer’s School of Architecture as a clinical associate professor. Combs said the project, developed in his previous position at Pratt Institute, touches upon a tradition of materials research within architecture. Combs said:

“There was a time when architects were expected to conduct materials research and drive industry. In contemporary times the architect has been much more of a consumer – what can we use and how can it fit what we would like to do. We’re trying to reintegrate this older idea of an architect as a material innovator and thread that with new ideas of how to teach and practice.”

In the project, students investigated the potential of stock 10-foot by 40-foot sheets of pleated blind material. In early studies, students performed simple manipulations, either pinching, bundling, or pooling the material to establish what could be done, how it would look, and to build a method of measuring the effect of each particular manipulation.

Here’s an example of a less complex manipulation of the material. In this one, you can still see the relationship to window shades.

Students wrote algorithms that could predict the effect of particular distortions, allowing them to generate models and build plans with architectural computer programs. The students also learned to painstakingly mark the material with regularly placed staples, giving them reference points across each sheet that could be coordinated with their computer-generated plans.

The resulting forms were constructed by projecting computer the generated plans onto the sheets of raw material and threading it with semi-rigid fiberglass rods.

“It’s as much about what’s produced as it is about the process of producing it,” Combs said. “There are multiple readings. One is a direct architectural application – here’s a new use of a shade material. The other is in terms of its pedagogical impact and the importance of doing material research and rethinking the relationship between architecture, computer design and materials.”

The exhibit features several original creations as well as computer schematics and photographs of the project. The exhibit is free and open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October 25.