Hinman Courtyard Installation

In this three-semester pilot DESIGN/BUILD workshop students and faculty, in multidisciplinary teams, engaged an architectural problem, working from a conceptual proposition to a fully built artifact. Over the course of three semesters students prototyped, detailed, fabricated, and constructed while becoming introduced to the complexities of scheduling and coordinating contractors in working with a state agency. This culminated in a permanent intervention sited at the College of Design’s Hinman Research Building.

The intervention itself was conceived to enlarge the functionality of an underutilized courtyard as a place of varied pedagogical and social ideations. First, the proposal seeks to strengthen the courtyard as a spatial extension and datum marker between the interior and exterior space of the Hinman Research Building. Second, it suggests an urban development of the adjacent pathway, instigating a transformation from alley to pedestrian way. Finally, it positions the courtyard as local nexus for both the institute and the College of Design. The project ethos is portrayed in the ephemeral qualities of parallax, moiré, and levitation, all exhibited within three complementary installation elements: a pavilion, a layered steel veneer wall, and stair seating.

Design Challenge

The desire is that the relatively small-scale metaphors of parallax, moiré, and levitation exhibited through formal languages of the pavilion, steel veneer wall, and stair seating create a complementary ensemble that is reflected in the larger life of the project. The designers’ hope is that these commodious additions to the courtyard will promote a density of use in this underutilized courtyard. And that this in turn, will lead to the discovery and invention of increased program possibilities that may change and grow positively over time. The first, and most central, of the three elements is a pavilion, a formally ambiguous levitated “roof” that functions to readjust spatial conditions and promote an enlarged program for this underutilized space as an outdoor room. Located east of the courtyard, the pavilion substantively defines the garden courtyard and simultaneously gives an address to the minor street behind. It becomes didactically urban and presents a prototype and precedent for neighbors in the conversion of a service drive to pedestrian pathway. The pavilion consists of planar steel fields. Vertical cruciform columns carry the load of horizontally arrayed “T” sections holding the cantilevered roof panels. The bamboo plantings create a static green volume of vertical elements that are put into parallax as the position of the viewer changes. The result is a steel textile that, though static, appears to float. Structurally, in its own novel manner, the pavilion seeks, as did Office dA with their renovation of the Hinman Research Building to, “complement, not compete with the pedagogical clarity of Hinman’s early modernist composite steel/masonry construction”. The second element to the north of the courtyard is a steel veneer “wall” composed of reticulated steel sheets in a sandwich configuration that functions as seating and pin-up space. Ideas explored in the pavilion, in a robust sculptural embrace of three-dimensions, are revisited at the steel veneer wall in, nominally, two dimensions. Overlapping slats at the front and rear panels are designed to create a moiré effect, activated as people move along its length. The illusion animates leaf-like elements rising or descending depending on the viewer’s direction. Backlighting effectively highlights the kinetic effect at night due to the silhouette effect of the front panel. Ultimately, depth perception creates the monumental effect of the long horizontal mural-- a kinetic polyptych rendered in steel. The third “chair,” or seating element, as the two preceding pavilion and wall, seeks to invoke the quality of levitation. As opposed to fixed theater seating, this stair seating changes over time, leaving impressions of the particular social groupings last configuration. Scaled to be altered, users rest on wood slats floated by a folded steel plate above the surface of the concrete in various arrangements. The resultant are sculptural chairs authentically suggestive of the motion they’re designed to facilitate.

Physical Context

Things may move but often they may only appear to move. Suspension, the concept invoked by Nader Tehrani of Office dA to inform the interior space of Hinman Research Building, may be manifested as kinetic or potential energy. So too, with levitation, moiré, and parallax in relation to the space of movement in the courtyard. The juxtaposition between the user and these attractors at the intersection of the courtyard is the mechanism which promotes the dynamism of the space. Motion becomes the user interface to the three elements that contribute to this communal room. The kinesthetic quality presented in the pin-up wall in terms of the moiré affect is discerned when the viewer changes position, the parallel lines of two flat surfaces creating a cinema-like illusion of movement. This visual/spatial effect in a nominally two-dimensional surface is present at the pavilion in three dimensions through parallax. The bamboo planting, and the columns within, create a static green volume made of vertical elements that are put into motion as the position of the viewer changes. The slight of perception creates visual modularity in the form of the chair in elevation and profile, yet is enhanced once the user occupies the chairs, and essentially, levitates. What was once a space relegated to a neglected service alleyway has been exploited to form a language of urban redistribution for student access and space to promote interaction and density. The design of the courtyard installation has evolved from terse interaction of users simply walking through the space gradually manifested to users taking a seat, to studying, to giving presentations, and now conducting commencement ceremonies. It allows user to individualize the space to their configuration and dictate ownership by responding to their respective stimuli.