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Upside Dome / Architectural Understudy

by Geoff Manaugh (noreply@blogger.com) last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:50 AM
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by Geoff Manaugh (noreply@blogger.com) last modified Oct 01, 2010



 

 

[Image: "Upside Dome" by Gijs Van Vaerenbergh; photo by Jeroen Verrecht].

Looking at "Upside Dome" by Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, installed inside the St. Michiel Church in Leuven, Belgium, is like seeing the underlying geometric logic of Western space bleed through from a hidden dimension.

The project was at least partially inspired, the architects write, by their recognition that the church itself actually has no dome: their intervention "takes this seemingly trivial fact as a starting point and generate[s] the missing dome in a remarkable way."
    Using the design technique of the catenary, a new structure emerges in the church. The Upside Dome is a real size scale model, comprised of hundreds of meters of chain, which is literally and figuratively the counterpart of the unfinished dome.
Abstract, bulbous, heavy with itself, this network of chains thus forms an inverted counter-dome—a reflective surrogate, a back-to-front double, an upside dome—inside the nave.

[Image: "Upside Dome" by Gijs Van Vaerenbergh; photo by Jeroen Verrecht].

The actual installation shots are pretty cool, as well: glimpses of the church's innards—its otherwise unseen attics and backspaces—complete with long chains dropped down from above.

[Images: "Upside Dome" by Gijs Van Vaerenbergh; photo by Jeroen Verrecht].

The final result is both model and realization, then, simultaneously a demonstration and the final product.

[Image: "Upside Dome" by Gijs Van Vaerenbergh; photo by Jeroen Verrecht].

In many ways, I'm reminded of the work of Ball-Nogues, a firm based here in Los Angeles. See their brilliantly named "Gravity's Loom," for instance; they describe that installation as follows:
    In developing Gravity’s Loom, Ball-Nogues has allowed the properties and limitations of a given material—in this case, string—[to] guide their work. When the array of strings is hung... it will take the shape of an inverted dome through which a patterned color composition will be revealed that represents the artists’ take on Baroque embellishment. Ball and Nogues understand the oval shape of the IMA’s Pavilion to be analogous to the dome of classical Baroque architecture, which historically incorporated surface decoration to blur the distinction between what is architectural, sculptural, and pictorial. The strings of Gravity’s Loom will be painted to represent the imagined plan for a traditional Baroque ceiling pattern—a three dimensional volume that will blur into billows of color and then snap into a focused geometry, depending on the viewer’s vantage point.
Here, too, then, we see the inverted, gravitationally shaped dome used as a stand-in for an otherwise absent piece of Baroque architecture—it is a replicant ceiling, an architectural understudy.

In both projects—"Gravity's Loom" and "Upside Dome"—the geometry of gravity itself collides with the ornamental excess of Baroque architecture in a surprisingly appropriate and optically interesting way: together, these installations suggest a kind of minimalist Baroque, where emerging nests of curved surfaces take shape, both mocking and repeating the logic of the buildings around them. (See also "Feathered Edge," also by Ball-Nogues).

[Images: "Upside Dome" by Gijs Van Vaerenbergh; photo by Jeroen Verrecht].

Way back in March 2005, meanwhile, I caught a lecture by architect Mark Goulthorpe at the University of Pennsylvania, where he demonstrated a piece of software that I believe had been produced in-house at his firm; it allowed the architect to model the hanging of chains in virtual catenary curves, and thus to generate a huge variety of possible architectural shapes for future projects. He produced, with the click of a mouse, live there in the lecture hall, new species of curves in space.

[Image: "Upside Dome" by Gijs Van Vaerenbergh; photo by Jeroen Verrecht].

But the method of analog calculation seen both in "Upside Dome" and in the work of Ball-Nogues—that is, simply drooping pieces of chain or string through space till they stabilize, like architectural stratigraphy—gives force and form to gravity and to the potential architectures tucked away in empty space.

 

 

 
 
 

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