By Roland Li
Starting this month, Brooklyn Museum visitors will be greeted by a towering fabric installation that transforms the columns of the Great Hall into a forest of white mushrooms, sprouting to the ceiling.
Design firm Situ Studio submitted the idea to the museum as part of the museum’s reOrder exhibition, which coincided with Ennead Architects’ renovation of the original McKim, Mead & White-designed structure.
“The idea was to make the ornamental functional,” said Arielle Lapp, one of the 20 Situ personnel who built the installation. Although the varied shapes are the most striking part of the exhibit, the original columns have gained a new purpose: near the base of the columns are places for visitors to sit.
Situ prepared the materials for months and began construction on Feb. 7 to prepare for its March 4 opening. The installation will remain until Jan. 15, 2012.
Around 10 to 15 people worked at the site on a given day, splitting their time so work was done seven days a week, said Lapp. The dedication to efficiency paid off, as the installation was complete two days in advance. Situ personnel used heat to shape the fabric, stitching other parts to the structure, and even used scissor lifts to elevate themselves to a workable position. Glen Raven Custom Fabrics donated Sunbrella fabric, and LG Hausys donated acrylic surfacing material.
Situ conducted extensive research on the museum’s history, architecture and even dress forms, which the structures resemble, in preparation for the exhibit, said Sharon Matt Atkins, Brooklyn Museum’s managing curator of exhibits.
“In the end, they’ve created a dynamic installation that activates the space in a wholly new way,” she said. “The Museum considered projects by a number of artists, but the proposal by Situ Studio was the only one that responded directly to the Museum’s architecture. It really celebrates the Great Hall, both in its current state and its history.”
“We are also thrilled to be highlighting a Brooklyn-based design firm for this project,” she added.
Situ has been based in DUMBO, Brooklyn for eight years and is currently a tenant in Two Trees’ 20 Jay Street. It considers its landlord an “unofficial sponsor.” Two Trees allowed Situ to construct a full scale mock-up of the Brooklyn Museum installation in a temporary space, located in its new development at 770 Eleventh Avenue on the west side of Manhattan.
“We try to support our tenants in DUMBO, and we have great respect for the work that Situ does. We are discussing a number of projects with them,” said David Walentas, principal of Two Trees.
The 10-person firm was founded by five partners, Aleksey Lukyanov-Cherny, Sigfus Breidfjord, Basar Girit, Westley Rozen and Bradley Samuels, who met while studying architecture in Cooper Union. They are not, however, certified architects or engineers, and consider themselves designers who work with various industries.
Situ’s previous projects have included work at One Jackson Square, a residential building designed by KPF Associates and developed by Hines Interests. Situ was a consultant on the design, engineering, fabrication and installation of a 220-foot bamboo plywood wall in the building’s lobby. The entire system includes 65 panels, each section three to four feet wide and 13 feet tall, and made up of 180 bamboo plywood parts, some of which can be pulled out to create a storage or a sitting area.
“The fluid geometry of the wall ripples outward in areas to form shelves and benches,” said Lukyanov-Cherny.
The firm also has a research department, recently assisting Prof. Adam Maloof of Princeton University in groundbreaking research on fossil specimens. Maloof found samples in South Australia that were incompatible with traditional methods of scanning, due to the density of the material. Situ developed a procedure that sliced the sample into pieces of data and used a program to digitally reconstruct the original fossil. It was later determined the be the oldest animal ever discovered.
We worked with the architect’s on developing the geometry for the artwork though digital models, scaled physical models, and full-scale mock-ups. While developing the artwork geometry, we helped the architects develop a way to produce the piece within a tight budget. Originally OTD considered casting the sculpture in bronze as well as forming sheet metal methods – both were too expensive. Through material research, Situ found an alternative which entails applying a spray-on metal over CNC milled foam. After developing the construction system we produced shop-drawings, oversaw production and will be in London overseeing installation in a few weeks.
In London, Situ worked with the Office of Thierry Despont on an eight-story sculpture that would face Hyde Park, mounted on the five-star Park Lane Hotel. It was built with metallic panels, but initial designs based on bronze or sheet metal were too expensive. Situ used digital and physical models to develop the sculpture, and found a spray-on metal on computer-milled foam, which came on budget. Situ will overseeing the sculpture’s installation in a few weeks – the sculpture’s pieces will be flown to London from the U.S.
Although Situ was negatively affected by the recession, particularly its chilling effect on construction and government-funded grants, it continued to see work in the research department and recent months have been encouraging, contrasting noticeably with leaner times.
“Your phone is silent for weeks,” said Lukyanov-Cherny. “Now, it’s picking up”