Diploma Studio 10 at Westminster University School of Architecture
HORTICULTURE HERITAGE, HYPERBUILD
THE SITE: ROTHERHITHE GASOMETER
Rotherhithe, South west London, is a redeveloped, residential area with a close-knit community of residents. The site is currently under planning with proposals to build a multi-use housing development around the gasometer.
In 2019, the Rotherhithe Gas Holder company opened a temporary Hub to receive resident feedback for the planned development. Lots of feedback was in relation to the heritage of Rotherhithe, with residents requesting the history of the site is maintained and celebrated.
The name ‘Rotherhithe’ derived from the Latin translation of ‘Landing place’, as it was part of the Docklands trade, with raw materials and goods being imported to the site via ships from around the world.
Rotherhithe Warehouse, 1960
The inspiration behind my proposal was to put this heritage request at the forefront of design consideration, and the artefact brings back the plants that grow herbs, fruits, spices and botanicals that were once imported into Rotherhithe.
Taking inspiration from the death of a coral skeleton after bleaching, the artefact is based on a replicated ‘mesh’ aspect of strong and resilliant branching coral.
Taking the resillience of a coral mesh, I have experimented on Grasshopper with different methods of creating the initial design concepts of my artefact. The mesh will act as a supportive shell, with plants integrated throughout.
MESH TO STRUCTURE
The Grasshopper experiments are transformed into various containers based on the concept of Wardian Cases, providing various moisture, light and temperature conditions for each individual plant.
HERITAGE, HORTICULTURE & HYPERBUILDS
Gasometers, also known as gasholders, are a key symbol of British heritage from the industrial era. During this time, the environment was subjected to exposure from factories causing smog, acidic rain and air pollution. This led to an environment that was unsustainable for plant growth; a vital consideration in the Architecture world today.
This project celebrates our scientific movements away from the industrial era through our ability to re-create self-sustaining climates for plants. The discovery of the Wardian Case- the original terrarium, demonstrates a simple yet powerful ability to re-create its own self-sustaining climate, allowing biodiversity to grow & thrive.
‘Bio’, with the latin meaning ‘organic life’, is becoming increasingly considered through trends such as biophilia, biomimicry and biomorphism. The Biosphere (Earth), must have such trends prioritised at the forefront of design in order to help keep our planet inhabitable. Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, is an intricately researched document on our top 100 most effective methods of reducing and reversing the climate crisis The document covers all issues concerning global warming from family planning/population control to refridgeration, plant-based diets, and organic material usage. Some of the most effective topics have been applied to my proposal are:
• Regenerative farming • Plant rich diets • Educating girls • Solar energy • Mass organic food production
Drawdown has formed the inspiration for my exploration of Arcologies and Hyperbuildings- the proposal, using the world’s largest demolished gasometer site (550m²) aims to act as a fully self-sustaining multi-functional arcological hyper building, that incorprates public spaces such as horticultural education, plant nurseries & labs that breed native and exotic plants, and informative public exhibitions (Kew Gardens, Eden project & Crossrail roof garden as precedents) along with residential sectors that offer organic food farming inspired by the Wardian Case Terrariums.
Currently, the research has began by looking at regenerative farming, named no. 11 / 100 in Drawdown for ways to help reverse global warming. Brief 2 looks at how regenerative farming and permacultire can be combined with arcologies to create fully self sustaining climates.
Researching Biosphere 2 has shown how self-sustaining climates can be re created, allowing a diverse range of life to grow and thrive. Similar to brief 01 on a much larger scale, such as the researched Eugine Tsui’s Ultima tower, whilst considering waste streams, resources, materials and energy consumption.
Scaling up the existing heritage harvester and creating more features to create a self-sustaining ecosystem with various living, communal, leisure, commercial and biodiverse spaces.
The main aspects of the Corn-Crete House system are the use of space, material efficiency and relationship to site. The way space is shaped influences human behaviour. According to a research paper done by KAYVAN MADANI NEJAD in 2007 the curvilinearity of interior design directly affects the way people feel inside them. It concluded that the more curvilinear a space is the more comfortable, safe, relaxed and friendly it feels. My project builds upon this argument. Research also shows that the concrete industry is a major environment pollutant. Cement is the most damaging ingredient. I am proposing a new system which will be using less concrete & less cement thanks to: 1) corn residues partially replacing aggregate making the structure lighter and more porous 2) casting around inflatables resulting in curvilinear architecture suitable for compression which requires less tensile strength.
Palm trees are angiosperms, which means flowering plants. They are monocots which means their seeds produce a single, leaf-like cotyledon when they sprout. This makes palms closely related to grasses and bamboo.
Mimicking the Geometry
This mature palm shows how the pattern originally seen in the young plant, forms a distinct mathematic pattern known as ‘Phyllotaxis’. This is a pattern with reoccurs throughout nature and is based on the Fibonacci sequence. In order to try to understand the use and formation of the palm fibre, the overall formation of the palm stem needed to be mathematically explored.
However, redrawing the cross-section of the base of the palm plants allows a better understanding of the arrangement of the palm plant.
This exercise allows models to be made to recreate the patterns found in palm plants. By engineering plywood components, the basic shape of the palm geometry can be made into a physical model.
This was pushed further by curving the plywood components to make extruded palm structure models
The arrayed components can then be altered so that the base of the models form regular polygon shapes. Doing this allows the potential for the structures to be tesselated. Using different numbers of components mean the structure can then be tested for strength.
There are hundreds of used for palm fruits, this the plant producing materials which range from durable, to flexible to edible. One of the more interesting ones if the production of palm wine using the sap from the tree. Within 2 hours of the wine tapping process, the wine may reach up to 4%, by the following day the palm wine will become over fermented. Some prefer to drink the beverage at this point due to the higher alcohol content. The wine immediately begins fermenting, both from natural yeast in the air and from the remnants of wine left in the containers to add flavour. Ogogoro described a ‘local gin’, is a much stronger spirit made from Raffia palm tree sap. After extraction, the sap is boiled to form steam, which is then condensed and collected for consumption. Ogogoro is not synthetic ethanol but it is tapped from a natural source and then distilled.
To understand the fermentation process more clear, the process of fermenting sugar to make wine has been undertaken.
The distillation of the wine can be used to make bio-ethanol. This production of this fuel can act as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuel energy, which is overused and damaging to our environment.
The developed structure, as well as the production of palm wine and bio-ethanol, can be collaborated to develop a programme, which provides sustainable energy, within a space that is inviting and exciting.
The production of bio-fuel releases a lot of carbon dioxide. In order to ensure the process does not impact the environment, this needs to occur inside a closed system, so the CO2 does not enter the atmosphere. This can be done by using the properties of a Solar Updraft Tower. Carbon dioxide released from the fermentation and distillation processes can be received by palm trees for increased photosynthesis, while the excess oxygen from the trees provides fresh air for visitors.
The fermentation process can be controlled within an isolated area of the model.
The Distillation process, which requires a store of water for cooling, can also be conducted in an isolated area of the model, with apparatus incorporated into the structure.
The final proposal will be a combination of all three forms
Regarding my previous entries, it can be difficult to see how any of this has to do with architecture. In fact I know a few people who think studying fractals is pointless.
Admittedly I often struggle to explain to people what fractals are, let alone how they can influence the way buildings look. However, I believe that this post really sheds light on how these kinds of studies may directlyinfluence and enhance our understanding (and perhaps even the future) of our built environment.
On a separate note, I heard that a member of the architectural academia said “forget biomimicry, it doesn’t work.”
Firstly, I’m pretty sure Frei Otto would be rolling over in his grave.
Secondly, if someone thinks that biomimicry is useless, it’s because they don’t really understand what biomimicry is. And I think the same can be said regarding the study of fractals. They are closely related fields of study, and I wholeheartedly believe they are fertile grounds for architectural marvels to come.
7.0 Introduction to Shells
As far as classification goes, shells generally fall under the category of two-dimensional shapes. They are defined by a curved surface, where the material is thin in the direction perpendicular to the surface. However, assigning a dimension to certain shells can be tricky, since it kinda depends on how zoomed in you are.
A strainer is a good example of this – a two-dimensional gridshell. But if you zoom in, it is comprised of a series of woven, one-dimensional wires. And if you zoom in even further, you see that each wire is of course comprised of a certain volume of metal.
This is a property shared with many fractals, where their dimension can appear different depending on the level of magnification. And while there’s an infinite variety of possible shells, they are (for the most part) categorizable.
7.1 – Single Curved Surfaces
Analytic geometry is created in relation to Cartesian planes, using mathematical equations and a coordinate systems. Synthetic geometry is essentially free-form geometry (that isn’t defined by coordinates or equations), with the use of a variety of curves called splines. The following shapes were created via Synthetic geometry, where we’re calling our splines ‘u’ and ‘v.’
Uniclastic: Barrel Vault (Cylindrical paraboloid)
These curves highlight each dimension of the two-dimensional surface. In this case only one of the two ‘curves’ is actually curved, making this shape developable. This means that if, for example, it was made of paper, you could flatten it completely.
Uniclastic: Conoid (Conical paraboloid)
In this case, one of them grows in length, but the other still remains straight. Since one of the dimensions remains straight, it’s still a single curved surface – capable of being flattened without changing the area. Singly curved surfaced may also be referred to as uniclastic or monoclastic.
7.2 – Double Curved Surfaces
These can be classified as synclastic or anticlastic, and are non-developable surfaces. If made of paper, you could not flatten them without tearing, folding or crumpling them.
Synclastic: Dome (Elliptic paraboloid)
In this case, both curves happen to be identical, but what’s important is that both dimensions are curving in the same direction. In this orientation, the dome is also under compression everywhere.
The surface of the earth is double curved, synclastic – non-developable. “The surface of a sphere cannot be represented on a plane without distortion,” a topic explored by Michael Stevens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lR7s1Y6Zig
Anticlastic: Saddle (Hyperbolic paraboloid)
This one was formed by non-uniformly sweeping a convex parabola along a concave parabola. It’s internal structure will behave differently, depending on the curvature of the shell relative to the shape. Roof shells have compressive stresses along the convex curvature, and tensile stress along the concave curvature.
Kellogg’s potato and wheat-based stackable snack
Here is an example of a beautiful marriage of tensile and compressive potato and wheat-based anticlastic forces. Although I hear that Pringle cans are diabolically heinous to recycle, so they are the enemy.
Structural Behaviour of Basic Shells [Source: IL 10 – Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design]
7.3 – Translation vs Revolution
In terms of synthetic geometry, there’s more than one approach to generating anticlastic curvature:
Hyperbolic Paraboloid: Straight line sweep variation
This shape was achieved by sweeping a straight line over a straight path at one end, and another straight path at the other. This will work as long as both rails are not parallel. Although I find this shape perplexing; it’s double curvature that you can create with straight lines, yet non-developable, and I can’t explain it..
Ruled Surface & Surface of Revolution (Circular Hyperboloid)
The ruled surface was created by sliding a plane curve (a straight line) along another plane curve (a circle), while keeping the angle between them constant. The surfaces of revolution was simply made by revolving a plane curve around an axis. (Surface of translation also exist, and are similar to ruled surfaces, only the orientation of the curves is kept constant instead of the angle.)
Hyperboloid Generation [Source:Wikipedia]
The hyperboloid has been a popular design choice for (especially nuclear cooling) towers. It has excellent tensile and compressive properties, and can be built with straight members. This makes it relatively cheap and easy to fabricate relative to it’s size and performance.
These are singly curved curves, although that does sound confusing. A simple way to understand what geodesic curves are, is to give them a width. As previously explored, we know that curves can inhabit, and fill, two-dimensional space. However, you can’t really observe the twists and turns of a shape that has no thickness.
Conic Plank Lines (Source: The Geometry of Bending)
A ribbon is essentially a straight line with thickness, and when used to follow the curvature of a surface (as seen above), the result is a plank line. The term ‘plank line’ can be defined as a line with an given width (like a plank of wood) that passes over a surface and does not curve in the tangential plane, and whose width is always tangential to the surface.
Since one-dimensional curves do have an orientation in digital modeling, geodesic curves can be described as the one-dimensional counterpart to plank lines, and can benefit from the same definition.
For simplicity, here’s a basic grid set up on a flat plane:
Basic geodesic curves on a plane
We start by defining two points anywhere along the edge of the surface. Then we find the geodesic curve that joins the pair. Of course it’s trivial in this case, since we’re dealing with a flat surface, but bear with me.
Initial set of curves
We can keep adding pairs of points along the edge. In this case they’re kept evenly spaced and uncrossing for the sake of a cleaner grid.
Addition of secondary set of curves
After that, it’s simply a matter of playing with density, as well as adding an additional set of antagonistic curves. For practicality, each set share the same set of base points.
Grid with independent sets
He’s an example of a grid where each set has their own set of anchors. While this does show the flexibility of a grid, I think it’s far more advantageous for them to share the same base points.
8.2 – Basic Gridshells
The same principle is then applied to a series of surfaces with varied types of curvature.
Uniclastic: Barrel Vault Geodesic Gridshell
First comes the shell (a barrel vault in this case), then comes the grid. The symmetrical nature of this surface translates to a pretty regular (and also symmetrical) gridshell. The use of geodesic curves means that these gridshells can be fabricated using completely straight material, that only necessitate single curvature.
Uniclastic: Conoid Geodesic Gridshell
The same grid used on a conical surface starts to reveal gradual shifts in the geometry’s spacing. The curves always search for the path of least resistance in terms of bending.
Synclastic: Dome Geodesic Gridshell
This case illustrates the nature of geodesic curves quite well. The dome was free-formed with a relatively high degree of curvature. A small change in the location of each anchor point translates to a large change in curvature between them. Each curve looks for the shortest path between each pair (without leaving the surface), but only has access to single curvature.
Anticlastic: Saddle Geodesic Gridshell
Structurally speaking, things get much more interesting with anticlastic curvature. As previously stated, each member will behave differently based on their relative curvature and orientation in relation to the surface. Depending on their location on a gridshell, plank lines can act partly in compression and partly in tension.
On another note:
While geodesic curves make it far more practical to fabricate shells, they are not a strict requirement. Using non-geodesic curves just means more time, money, and effort must go into the fabrication of each component. Furthermore, there’s no reason why you can’t use alternate grid patterns. In fact, you could use any pattern under the sun – any motif your heart desires (even tessellated puppies.)
Alternate Gridshell Patterns [Source: IL 10 – Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design]
Here are just a few of the endless possible pattern. They all have their advantages and disadvantages in terms of fabrication, as well as structural potential.
Biosphere Environment Museum – Canada
Gridshells with large amounts of triangulation, such as Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic spheres, typically perform incredibly well structurally. These structure are also highly efficient to manufacture, as their geometry is extremely repetitive.
Centre Pompidou-Metz – France
Gridshells with highly irregular geometry are far more challenging to fabricate. In this case, each and every piece had to be custom made to shape; I imagine it must have costed a lot of money, and been a logistical nightmare. Although it is an exceptionally stunning piece of architecture (and a magnificent feat of engineering.)
8.3 – Gridshell Construction
In our case, building these shells is simply a matter of converting the geodesic curves into planks lines.
Hyperbolic Paraboloid: Straight Line Sweep Variation With Rotating Plank Line Grid
The whole point of using them in the first place is so that we can make them out of straight material that don’t necessitate double curvature. This example is rotating so the shape is easier to understand. It’s grid is also rotating to demonstrate the ease at which you can play with the geometry.
Hyperbolic Paraboloid: Flattened Plank Lines With Junctions
This is what you get by taking those plank lines and laying them flat. In this case both sets are the same because the shell happens to the identicall when flipped. Being able to use straight material means far less labour and waste, which translates to faster, and or cheaper, fabrication.
An especially crucial aspect of gridshells is the bracing. Without support in the form of tension ties, cable ties, ring beams, anchors etc., many of these shells can lay flat. This in and of itself is pretty interesting and does lends itself to unique construction challenges and opportunities. This isn’t always the case though, since sometimes it’s the geometry of the joints holding the shape together (like the geodesic spheres.) Sometimes the member are pre-bent (like Pompidou-Metz.) Although pre-bending the timber kinda strikes me as cheating thought.. As if it’s not a genuine, bona fide gridshell.
Toledo Gridshell 2.0. Construction Process [source: Timber gridshells – Numerical simulation, design and construction of a full scale structure]
This is one of the original build method, where the gridshell is assembled flat, lifted into shape, then locked into place.
9.0 Form Finding
Having studied the basics makes exploring increasingly elaborate geometry more intuitive. In principal, most of the shells we’ve looked are known to perform well structurally, but there are strategies we can use to focus specifically on performance optimization.
9.0 – Minimal Surfaces
These are surfaces that are locally area-minimizing – surfaces that have the smallest possible area for a defined boundary. They necessarily have zero mean curvature, i.e. the sum of the principal curvatures at each point is zero. Soap bubbles are a great example of this phenomenon.
Hyperbolic Paraboloid Soap Bubble [Source: Serfio Musmeci’s “Froms With No Name” and “Anti-Polyhedrons”]Soap film inherently forms shapes with the least amount of area needed to occupy space – that minimize the amount of material needed to create an enclosure. Surface tension has physical properties that naturally relax the surface’s curvature.
Kangaroo2 Physics: Surface Tension Simulation
We can simulate surface tension by using a network of curves derived from a given shape. Applying varies material properties to the mesh results in a shape that can behaves like stretchy fabric or soap. Reducing the rest length of each of these curves (while keeping the edges anchored) makes them pull on all of their neighbours, resulting in a locally minimal surface.
Here are a few more examples of minimal surfaces you can generate using different frames (although I’d like stress that the possibilities are extremely infinite.) The first and last iterations may or may not count, depending on which of the many definitions of minimal surfaces you use, since they deal with pressure. You can read about it in much greater detail here: https://tinyurl.com/ya4jfqb2
The Eden Project – United Kingdom
Here we have one of the most popular examples of minimal surface geometry in architecture. The shapes of these domes were derived from a series of studies using clustered soap bubbles. The result is a series of enormous shells built with an impressively small amount of material.
Triply periodic minimal surfaces are also a pretty cool thing (surfaces that have a crystalline structure – that tessellate in three dimensions):
Another powerful method of form finding has been to let gravity dictate the shapes of structures. In physics and geometry, catenary (derived from the Latin word for chain) curves are found by letting a chain, rope or cable, that has been anchored at both end, hang under its own weight. They look similar to parabolic curves, but perform differently.
Kangaroo2 Physics: Catenary Model Simulation
A net shown here in magenta has been anchored by the corners, then draped under simulated gravity. This creates a network of hanging curves that, when converted into a surface, and mirrored, ultimately forms a catenary shell. This geometry can be used to generate a gridshell that performs exceptionally well under compression, as long as the edges are reinforced and the corners are braced.
While I would be remiss to not mention Antoni Gaudí on the subject of catenary structure, his work doesn’t particularly fall under the category of gridshells. Instead I will proceed to gawk over some of the stunning work by Frei Otto.
Of course his work explored a great deal more than just catenary structures, but he is revered for his beautiful work on gridshells. He, along with the Institute for Lightweight Structures, have truly been pioneers on the front of theoretical structural engineering.
9.3 – Biomimicry in Architecture
There are a few different terms that refer to this practice, including biomimetics, bionomics or bionics. In principle they are all more or less the same thing; the practical application of discoveries derived from the study of the natural world (i.e. anything that was not caused or made by humans.) In a way, this is the fundamental essence of the scientific method: to learn by observation.
Example of Biomimicry
Frei Otto is a fine example of ecological literacy at its finest. A profound curiosity of the natural world greatly informed his understanding of structural technology. This was all nourished by countless inquisitive and playful investigations into the realm of physics and biology. He even wrote a series of books on the way that the morphology of bird skulls and spiderwebs could be applied to architecture called Biology and Building. His ‘IL‘ series also highlights a deep admiration of the natural world.
Of course he’s the not the only architect renown their fascination of the universe and its secrets; Buckminster Fuller and Antoni Gaudí were also strong proponents of biomimicry, although they probably didn’t use the term (nor is the term important.)
Gaudí’s studies of nature translated into his use of ruled geometrical forms such as hyperbolic paraboloids, hyperboloids, helicoids etc. He suggested that there is no better structure than the trunk of a tree, or a human skeleton. Forms in biology tend to be both exceedingly practical and exceptionally beautiful, and Gaudí spent much of his life discovering how to adapt the language of nature to the structural forms of architecture.
Fractals were also an undisputed recurring theme in his work. This is especially apparent in his most renown piece of work, the Sagrada Familia. The varying complexity of geometry, as well as the particular richness of detail, at different scales is a property uniquely shared with fractal nature.
Antoni Gaudí and his legacy are unquestionably one of a kind, but I don’t think this is a coincidence. I believe the reality is that it is exceptionally difficult to peruse biomimicry, and especially fractal geometry, in a meaningful way in relation to architecture. For this reason there is an abundance of superficial appropriation of organic, and mathematical, structures without a fundamental understanding of their function. At its very worst, an architect’s approach comes down to: ‘I’ll say I got the structure from an animal. Everyone will buy one because of the romance of it.”
That being said, modern day engineers and architects continue to push this envelope, granted with varying levels of success. Although I believe that there is a certain level of inevitability when it comes to how architecture is influenced by natural forms. It has been said that, the more efficient structures and systems become, the more they resemble ones found in nature.
Euclid, the father of geometry, believed that nature itself was the physical manifestation of mathematical law. While this may seems like quite a striking statement, what is significant about it is the relationship between mathematics and the natural world. I like to think that this statement speaks less about the nature of the world and more about the nature of mathematics – that math is our way of expressing how the universe operates, or at least our attempt to do so. After all, Carl Sagan famously suggested that, in the event of extra terrestrial contact, we might use various universal principles and facts of mathematics and science to communicate.
As our studio dipped into the complexity of fractals, it became easy to get lost. Suddenly, these geometries were everywhere. Trees, clouds, coastlines, our own bodies – all examples of fractals. Systems, that are made up of smaller self-simular parts until they reach infinity. Systems, that travel between dimension (more about it here https://wewanttolearn.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/shapes-fractals-time-the-dimensions-they-belong-to/). Wanting to understand these geometries better, I found a Fractal plugin for Grasshopper by albertovalis on Food4Rhino. Playing around with various parameters and GH components gave me interesting shapes, but which seemed far away from an architectural object. I then decided to give it a try and allow the program to randomly select elements by assigning different true/false patterns. Finally, an error happened and it was beautiful.
Error 101 is a visual representation of relationships between machines and humans. It illustrates what we can learn from each other (what does this mean?). The geometry was generated through a combination of fractal mathematics properties, parametric design tools and finally a computer error, which were all guided by human decisions.
The artwork will be made out of ‘chaotically’ arranged ribbons that, together, form a tetrahedron. From far, the geometry will look well defined – a triangle or pyramid. As you get closer you notice the complexity. When you experience is physically, you find logic in the chaos. Inside the tetrahedron is a void.
Error 101 will be constructed using bent cross-laminated timber modules that are interlocked together with flitch plates. Their arrangement will allow the object to be self-supporting. The whole piece is 18’x18’x18’ (5.5 metres). Timber strips create the outer shell and are 25 inches wide (635 mm). Their surface will be treated to achieve a smooth finish to protect both the piece and visitors. Light strips will be fixed to edges of timber curves and turned on at night. Assembly will be completed on site.
Interactivity and Mission
Error 101 is left open to interpretation – everyone can have their personal take on the piece. Visual and emotional perception of Error 101 may change depending on how close you get to it. It may encourage visitors to think of it, as something that travels between dimensions, which is a liberating allegory of how one thing can become another and how the whole is just a collection of its parts. Just like water can be liquid, ice or vapor, Error 101 can be a triangle, pyramid or chaotic curves.
The structure is climbable and each of many unique curves can be treated as a nest. Occupying empty spaces on different levels may make burners feel like a part of the ‘chaos’, that has a space for everyone. Different curvature can suggest different positioning of a body that may influence visual as well as physical experience. Entering the structure’s core shifts the visitor’s focus away from the idea of a pyramid and allows them to focus on what’s within. Such study erases preconceptions and allows new ideas to be born. This notion is also enhanced with the use of lights at night.
Error 101 is a product of human ability to perceive beauty, and computer’s power to process complex mathematics. Its development started with an attempt to try to understand fractal geometries that only became possible to study in the recent years due to the development of computer processing power. A continuous human-computer-human processes that involved both logic and error allowed for the piece to be born.
Error 101 is a common error in Internet browsing. A simple solution to it is clearing browsing history and cache. It may also appear in other spheres of digital world when software or a device is out of date. Burning Man participants are invited to clear their mind, update the ‘software’ and reset their system to become a new advanced version of themselves. The final steps of error 101 creation involved chance and error. The chaos led to something beautiful. We, as humans, can learn from this – learn to let go, to acknowledge and even appreciate mistakes, complexity of the world and our own selves. The geometry of an artwork is essentially a continuous strip that can be unrolled into one flat curve on the ground. This idea of continuity and interdependence is an allegory of a world’s structure.
The closer you get to Error 101, the more you can learn from it. A 2D triangle turns into 3D pyramid and then into a collection of overlaying shapes that are not truly from our dimension. With the speed of the modern world we tend to simplify things, which leads to inability to see details. Visitors are invited to come take time to study and appreciate the complexity of the Error, and to realize the beauty of a whole. From this, they may find that, in fact, all processes in our lives have a similar structure. Chaos generates order and order generates chaos.
Whatever your creed your reliance on the sun is unquestionable.
We have worshipped it as a God.
Spent lifetimes studying it through science.
Yet human hands will never touch its surface.
Celestial Field brings our sun to the Playa for us to dance in its glory.
Triggering our own solar flare.
From the dawn of time the sun has been a constant in human life. It has been central to the beliefs of nearly every civilisation throughout history. What was once an astrological wonder sustaining life; dictating when to plant and harvest our crops; evolved into a god and deity, woven into the stories and teachings of nearly every culture, from the Egyptians to the Ancient Greeks and even Christianity.
The oldest man-made structures in the world have resounding astrological connections to both the sun and constellations, covered in carvings they unquestionably align to major astrological events.
Newgrange in Boyne Valley, Ireland, thought to be built in 3500BC, has a tomb in which sits a stone basin lit by a single beam of light at sunrise on the winter solstice.
The Egyptians, Greeks, and Christians have all referenced the sun within their religion and beliefs.
The Egyptians in 3000BC had Ra, the Greeks in 400BC believed Helios to be God of the sun, and Christians have often depicted Jesus in front of what is thought by many to be the solar cross.
In the past the sun has been depicted as a 2Dimensional disk of light travelling across the sky before dying only to be reborn at sunrise.
The Ancient Greeks believed Helios to be the personification of the sun. A man with a many rayed crown of light, pulling the sun across the open sky with a horse drawn chariot. The Helios named after the Greek god has been used and adapted through the ages, with one of the most recognisable iterations being the logo of global corporation BP which symbolises “a number of things – not least the greatest source of energy … the sun itself..” – bp.com
This once celestial being has now become a tangible thing. Through advances in our technological and scientific capability we have gained an understanding of the suns chemical make-up, uncovering many of its secrets from sun spots to solar flares. Although we have developed an increased understanding of the forces driving the sun, it is still no more accessible to us mere humans than on the first day on earth remaining an impenetrable sphere in the sky only to viewed from a far.
Digital animation of lighting tests
The suns surface has taught us much. Galileo’s sun spot diagrams unknowingly demonstrated the unique fluidity of the suns chromosphere. Further study of these sun spots and magnificent solar flares proved that the surface of the sun is covered in billions of interlaced magnetic fields all interacting together to form the whole. When these fields cross swirling plasma burst in an instance out into the corona bringing with it immense light displays that can be seen on earth as the aurora.
In an age where endless streams of newfound knowledge are accessible with the touch of a finger – it is easy to lose our sense of innocent amazement and unquestioning awe. We have a constant need for explanation of why and how phenomena exist, no longer blindly excepting their beauty and revelling in it.
The indescribable beauty of these gigantic magnetic fields can often be lost and forgotten in the mundane when scaled down to earthly objects. Viewing them at a micro scale allows us to connect with their other-worldly nature.
Science has taught us how a magnet attracts and repels enabling use in industry, medicine and everyday life. And as our knowledge expands, we move from child to adulthood and our desire to play diminishes – burdened by explanations and reasoning; we are no longer in awe of our ability to make metal move without laying hands on it. It has become the norm and the expected, it is no longer ‘magic’.
Life should be fun and full of mesmerising moments. Our increased knowledge should enable and enhance our experience of ‘magic’ not hinder it.
Celestial Fields captures the unexplainable wonderment the sun once held and makes it accessible through modern mediums, combining two worlds; science and enchantment, imbedding them on the Playa at Black Rock City, Nevada, for people to explore and lose themselves in.
Thousands of swaying rods made of tubes of one-way mirror form an undulating field, rising high above your head, and falling like the plasma pulled in all directions by the phenomenal magnetic forces found on our sun.
By day a field of mirrors reflect and intensify the suns natural beauty and power. Creating a maze of ever changing light to explore, push through and play within. At sunset everything transforms. The field morphs, bursting into a sea of glowing beams reacting to movement and mimicking the fluid, almost pulsing nature of the suns corona.
Like the chromosphere, magnetic fields have informed density and pattern, creating patches of pure brightness and areas as dark as sunspots. With each rod built on a spring loaded base it can be pushed a manipulated, enabling you to forge your own path through the densest areas of Celestial Field, parting rods like magnets repelling polarised iron.
Movement through the sprung rods creates interest not only for the participants but also onlookers. During daylight hours people weaving in and out can be seen across the playa through the constant glinting of the sun on the reflective rods. An ever changing shimmer, like sunlight dancing across water in the distance, drawing people in from all directions out of wonder and intrigue.
Once the sun has set the lights come on, and the show only gets better. The rods now glow and pulse, changing colour, transforming the world around them – each equipped with a sensor so as to react to movement as people push past; creating tracks of swirling light shifting like the turbulent surface of the sun. Areas of intense and overwhelming light can occur when people team together to trigger a cluster of rods forming a concentration of light evocative of a solar flare.
The sun is not solely about light, with it comes inevitable darkness. Shadows too have been used throughout time as a symbol in opposition to that of the sun; and in this instance the areas of shadow formed in the magnetic layout create areas of calm within the thrill of the lights where one can sit and ponder everything from the dessert to the sky and the sun that brings life to earth.
What was once worshipped as a distant god and celestial being can now exist on the surface of the earth as a Celestial Field in Nevada. The sun has risen and set, bringing with it heat and light; powering life on earth since the dawn of time, a focus of incomprehensible wonder and fascination for each and every culture across the globe.
Celestial Field intends to reignite our faith in the intangible, while showing us there are powers and beauty still to be found in the modern world.
As part of my research to inform my final thesis project on the London Housing Crisis, I have created a short multiple choice survey that would benefit greatly from the input of members of the WeWantToLearn community who have lived in London at any point over the past six years. The survey only takes a few minutes to complete and will directly influence the design progression of my project in the coming weeks. Please spare a few moments to participate, and/or share with friends and relatives who may be able to contribute also.
You can find the survey at the following link: Here