Live models: learning by doing

trilux by nataly gattegno and jason kelly johnsonI went to a lecture Friday night by Nataly Gattegno of Future Cities Lab. This is a very forward thinking firm, developing analytic, responsive structures (“live models”) that trod the line between performance art by an object and art installation as feedback loop.  You didn’t even know that line existed, did you?

FCL began working with robotic elements in their architectural models at least a decade ago, looking to move their models beyond just visual depictions of project proposals.  In a live model, the miniature building is not a model (‘fake’) building, it is a miniature model (‘ideal’) object.  For a live model, the shade structures of a miniature building should actually move in response to the lighting in the room.

FCL’s working has been in a free slide lately.  Not a fall- that would mean down, and this work is moving forward and up quite nicely.  The projects have been shifting, however, sliding from existing in an architectural context to inhabiting sculpture and art installation, both provinces of the fine arts.

This is freeing the team (Gattegno and her partner, Jason Kelly Johnson, together are Future Cities Lab) to explore concepts and workings without needing so explicit a rational.  The needs of the world will catch up to them, the problems that they are devising solutions to will become apparent later.  What matters now is that they are learning how to solve some things .

In one recent piece, Gattegno and Johnson built an occupiable outdoor pavilion in San Francisco of steam-bent pine lathes.  This after years of working in metal, PET 6 plastic, and robotics.  The pine lathes, envisioned as forming a static structure looking not unlike a rose trellis on acid, were intriguing to the artist-architects for the chance to problem solve the geometry of joining multiple bubbles of space using thin lines.

Instead, the project took an accidental leap: FCL built their pavilion, and then it rained.  The pine material suddenly had ideas of its own.  A week of rain soaked the lathes, the intense humidity warping the wood, sagging the now soggy balloons.  Perfect form undulated to accommodate humidity, not because a computer program told it to, but just because pine does that.   For the next three months, the pavilion shrank and grew, flexed and curled, stood tall or listed left, all to register the recent weather: sunshine or fog bank, heat or chills, drying wind or wetting drizzle.

This ephemeral quality, so embedded in the nature of the pine material, was a startling journey of discovery for the Future Cities Lab, an unplanned adventure for folks well-versed in mutability and change  within the context of control and predictability.

To me, this is the glory of landscape architecture, of the best garden designs. It’s not about the predictable permanence of topiary Platonic solids for me; I am looking for the wind and the rain and the birds.  This is what is so powerful about the gardening experience, if a person is attuned to it.  I’ve often referred to garden design as painting in very slow motion, but perhaps what I need to include is the living and opinionated nature of the paints. (and the canvas, too, for that matter.)

Known as Trilux, the FCL pavilion installation crosses another line, too:  Trilux is both garden- “planted” by human hands and now responding to and changing with nature- and gardener- experiencing the weather and communicating that experience to the world. I would that garden art were so equivocal.

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All images here are owned by the Future Cities Lab.

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