Exhibit Columbus University Installation: Synergia

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Synergia at night, Columbus, Indiana. The building in the background is the North Christian Church by Eero Saarinen. Photography by Tony Vasquez

Installed on the site of Eero Saarinen’s North Christian Church in Columbus, Synergia is a public pavilion by the students of the IU School of Art, Architecture + Design in Bloomington, who were directed by me in my D475 design studio in Spring 2017 and in the summer of 2017 as volunteers. The graduate students of the IUPUI School of Engineering and Technology in Indianapolis, directed by Professor Andre Tovar and myself in our ME59700 course in Spring 2017 on designing complex origami-inspired structures, also participated at this project by conducting the structural analysis and optimization. Synergia is open to the public at Exhibit Columbus between August 26th and November 26th, 2017 in Columbus, Indiana.

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Synergia during the day, Columbus, Indiana. The building in the background is the North Christian Church by Eero Saarinen. Photography by Tony Vasquez
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Synergia during the day, Columbus, Indiana. Photography by Tony Vasquez

Synergia embodies the reality of life, community, and harmony through its simple parts working together to create a complex and light-filled space. Sitting next to Eero Saarinen’s North Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana, the translucent quality of the light found in Synergia in the daylight alludes to the hushed secondary light radiating from the perimeter of Saarinen’s structure. Colored LEDs further illuminate Synergia at night, creating an ephemeral atmosphere as Saarinen’s concrete façade serves as a backdrop. The interplay of light and shadow, acting in conjunction with the movements of compression and expansion, creates a space that fosters peace and reflection.

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Synergia at night, Columbus, Indiana. Photography by Tony Vasquez
Synergia at night, Columbus, Indiana. Photography by Tony Vasquez
Synergia at night. Photography by Tony Vasquez.
Synergia at night. Photography by Tony Vasquez.

The generative seed for Synergia is a bisymmetric space-filling polyhedron that tessellates the space when stacked in interlocking layers. Over five hundred of the polyhedrons, measuring about two to three feet each, work together to form elongated hexagonal units. This hexagon geometry echoes the overall geometry of Saarinen’s mid-century modernist architecture and at the same time serves as the building block of a complex and diverse structure in a way that is similar to the development of biological forms, soap bubbles, and crystal patterns.

Bisymmetric space-filling polyhedron, the generative seed for Synergia. Photography by Tony Vasquez

Synergia is constructed of translucent corrugated plastic sheets that are made from recycled plastic and are one hundred percent recyclable. The plastic boards were laser cut at Noblitt Fabricating in Columbus Indiana and then hand folded like origami to form each of the structural units in the studio at IU. With a thinkness of about 4mm, the plastic corrugated boards are super lightweight and can be easily bended along the flutes. The simple origami folds add significant structural strength to the otherwise light and flexible plastic sheet material. Furthermore, when connected together to form the overall installation, the folded hinges produce an interconnected and interlocking self-supporting space lattice that is light and yet structurally sound, eliminating the need for additional framing and assemblage and thus minimizing the material wastes.

The IU School of Art, Architectuare + Design is participating in Exhibit Columbus as a part of the University Installations together with five other schools including Ball State University, Ohio State University, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Michigan. For more information about university installations at Exhibit Columbus, visit https://exhibitcolumbus.org/exhibition/university-installations.


Faculty: Jiangmei Wu (with Andre Tovar)

IUB Students: Amy Cunningham, Marguerite Fisher-Heath, Siqiao Gao, Hannah Holloway, Kylie Knipscheer, Guanyao Li, Tristin Moore, Anna Mui, Ariana Nunes, Michelle Smith, Emma Walsh, Ye Wang, Zhanhua Yan, Simin Yu, Lu Zhang, Jin Zhu

IUPUI Students: Aaron Berndt, Ryan Comer, Shweta Daule, Shantanu Sabade, Ashutosh Salunke, Pratik Shelke

Special thanks: I would like to thank many individuals, including my colleagues at IU SoAAD (Kelly Wilson, Marleen Newman, Peg Faimon, Ryan Mandell, Tai Rogers), Exhibit Columbus members (Janice Shimizu, Josh Coggeshall, Anne Surak and Richard McCoy), community members of Columbus (Tricia Gilson, Jerry Karr, and “Bill” who lives near the North Christian Church and who is helping to ensure that the lights are on every night), and my most dedicated students Tristin Moore and Guanyao Li. Thank you all very much  for helping with this project during its ideation, fabrication, construction, and installation process.

Chromatic Points of Light: Form Finding through Computational Physical Simulation

Chromatic Points of Light is a proposal for a public art installation. The project is based on  my interests in form finding through computational physical simulation. The main tool used is Kangaroo, a plug-in for Rhinoceros that work within Grasshopper interface. Kangaroo is developed by Daniel Piker, who used to work at the Specialist Modelling Group (SMG) at Foster + Partners. Essentially, Kangaroo is a collection of algorithms that simulates certain aspects of the behavior of real-world materials and objects, enabling geometric forms to be shaped by material properties and applied physical forces such as spring forces and gravity forces.

A rendering of Chromatic Points of light
A rendering of Chromatic Points of light
Detail of rendering of Chromatic Points of light

The minimal surface found in Chromatic Points of Light is the result of simulations of spring forces on a mesh surface. The main material proposed for this tensile structure is some type of architectural fabric. Potential fabrics might includ vinyl coated polyester (PVC), Teflon coated fiberglass (PTFE), or HDPE, a high density polyethylene mesh. In addition, digitally controlled LEDs is proposed to wash the canvas of this architectural mesh with ephemeral and changing patterns of light.

(C)olumn: Data Visualization in Public Sculpture through Participatory Process

Commissioned by the city of Bloomignton, Indiana, (C)olumn project realizes complex data visualization in the form of public sculpture through a participatory process that uses of social media and web technologies. The project is a collaboration with my colleague Jon Racek.

(C)olumn at night. Photo courtesy: Jon Racek
(C)olumn at night. Photo courtesy: Jon Racek

Participatory public art is an approach to making art in which the public are engaged directly in the creative process, changing their roles from being merely viewers to creators. Participatory art challenges the notion that professional classes of artists/designers are dominating the form-making process and that the public are the passive observers. But how can the public be effectively engaged in the form-making process, particularly in the making of a monolithic-like gateway sculpture? Can the social media and web technologies mediate the public’s direct participation? (C)olumn project intends to understand the relationship between public participation, data visualization and form making in public art.

(C)olumn details. Photo courtsey: Jon Racek
(C)olumn details. Photo courtsey: Jon Racek

Approximately 11 feet in height and 5 feet in width,  (C)olumn  is a tapered “C”- shaped architectural room with myriads of words about Bloomington cutout and inscribed onto steel panels. The “C” in the name “(C)olumn” represents the values of connectivity, culture and community.   The design is meant to act as an “urban room”, an architectural folly that allows passers-by to stop their busy lives, stop, enter the (C)olumn site and look in a variety of ways.

Fabrication process. Photo courtesy: Jon Racek.
(C)olumn installation. Photo courtsey: Jon Racek

Bloomington public was directly involved in order to come up with a visual concept that truly represented Bloomington community, a college town with a population of roughly 80,000. During a three-month period, Jon and I set up web interfaces to solicit inputs from Bloomington community through social media sites. Answer Garden, a free web 2.0 tool, was used to collect the words from the residents anonymously and posted their words instantaneously. These words were then displayed in a word cloud format in which the size of each input word indicated its popularity and frequency among Bloomington residents. Hundreds of residents submitted inputs in Answer Garden. The final word cloud, consisted of roughly three hundred unique words ranging from words like “Over-priced” to “Basketball,” were collected at the end of the three-month period and were used as the base for a final design that was produced in CAD programs such as Rhino. This finished word cloud design, was then sent to a local sheet fabricator to be laser cut onto six large ¼ inch thick steel panels. These large panels were then rolled into the three dimensional forms and were welded into one structure.

Website that calls out for participatory design.
Website that calls out for participatory design.

Sitting quietly next to the historic park and illuminated at night, (C)olumn is brimming with the energy of vibrant night scenes of the nearby BEAD district, full of words from the people of the community.