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Architecture Presents “Shades of Materials Research”
Picture a pleated window shade, the updated fabric version of venetian blinds. The material for the shades — panels of accordion-pleated fabric — is pleasant but unremarkable in its domestic guise as window treatment.

But with meticulous study and painstaking craftsmanship, the familiar material is transformed into massive, curving sculptures on display in the exhibit “Remanufactured Veilscapes,” now through Oct. 25 in the Black Box Gallery of the Greene Building.

The exhibit kicks off a School of Architecture lecture series that continues on Oct. 13, with a lecture by Philip Beesley on “Abject Fertility: Liminal Responsive Architectures.” The series culminates on Nov. 8 when acclaimed architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis presents “Questions: On the Continuity of Contradiction.”

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.” — Lonn Combs

The “Remanufactured Veilscapes” exhibit presents the results of a design studio led by Lonn Combs, who recently joined the 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.

“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,” Combs said. “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.

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 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 four full-sized sculptures as well as computer schematics and photographs of the project.

The full schedule of events is available at the School of Architecture’s website at http://www.arch.rpi.edu/news_events.htm.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 15, October 8, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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