Winnipeg is a city of 600,000 residents located on the Canadian prairie. It is the coldest city of its size outside of Siberia. Winter can last six months. So learning to celebrate winter – learning to take advantage of the opportunities that winter provides – makes sense.
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The Red and the Assiniboine Rivers meet in the centre of the city, and in winter, when plowed of snow, skating trails many miles long are created. But with temperatures that drop to minus 30 and 40 for long periods of time, and winds that can make minus 30 feel like minus 50, creating opportunities to find shelter from the wind greatly enhances the ability to use the river skating trails. Therefore, a program has developed to sponsor the design and construction of temporary shelters located along the skating trails. Our proposal consists of a cluster of intimate shelters, each accommodating only a few people at a time. They are grouped in a small ‘village’ (or ‘herd’, or ‘school’, or ’flock’, or ‘flotilla’) to form a collective … of ‘something’ … irreducible to a single interpretation. They stand with their backs to the wind like buffalo, seeming to have life and purpose as they huddle together shielding each other from the elements.
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Each shelter is formed of thin, flexible plywood which is given both structure and spatial character through bending/deformation. Skins, made of 2 layers of 3/16th inch thick flexible plywood, are cut in patterns and attached to a timber armature which consists of a triangular base, and wedge shaped spine and ridge members (the ridge is a line to negate the gravity loads of snow). Experiments in our workshop with a full-scale prototype mapped the stresses of bending. Stress points were relieved by a series of cuts and openings. The form of the shelter is a resultant of this process of stressing/deforming and then releasing stress.
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Grouping the shelters into a cluster begins with the relationship of two, and their juxtaposition to qualify the size and accessibility of their entrance openings. This apparently casual pairing is actually achieved by a precise 120 degree rotation. Three pairs (one with mirror reflection) are then placed in relation to one another through a secondary rotation of 90 degrees to form the cluster and define an intermediate ‘interior’ space within the larger grouping. Together, the shelters create dynamic solar and wind relationships that shift according to specific orientation, time of day and environmental circumstance.
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These are delicate and ‘alive’ structures. They move gently in the wind, creaking and swaying to and fro at various frequencies, floating precariously on the surface of the frozen river, shaking off any snow that might adhere to their surfaces. Their fragile and tenuous nature makes those sheltered by them supremely aware of the inevitability, ferocity and beauty of winter on the Canadian prairies.
One Fold is an exploration of the spatial and structural potential resulting from the simple folding of a sheet of stainless steel. It is inspired by the abstract origami of Paul Jackson who was challenged by one of his students to make an origami object by folding a piece of paper only once.
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We started by folding squares of paper in the traditional manner to gain an understanding of the formal possibilities of this radically reduced origami. However, while it is possible to fold a piece of paper and subsequently break the fold to create a stable three dimensional form, it is difficult to do this in steel; paper is pliant and can be forced to break across an existing fold, while steel sheet becomes extremely strong when folded and virtually impossible to break in this manner.
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To study this problem we began working with 2’ square sheets of 24 gauge galvanized sheet metal. We made a hole in the sheet and folded it across the hole. We were then able to force the sheet metal to break across the fold at the location of the hole much like paper. However as soon as we increased the size and thickness of the steel sheet we found that our ability to mimic the behavior of paper quickly diminished. As our objective was to fold a sheet of stainless steel large enough to form an enclosure we realized that we would require a technique very different from the one Paul Jackson had used to fold an origami object.
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Our solution to this problem was to invent a machine that would simultaneously fold a steel sheet and break the sheet across the fold.
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It is the simultaneity of both operations which makes it possible to do in steel what is sequentially possible in paper. Working through a series of sheets of increasing size we were able to enlarge and refine the machine to successfully form an 18 gauge 5’ x 12’ sheet (the largest sheet sized stocked in Vancouver) into a stable, self-supporting ‘broken’ vault – a shape in which the stresses introduced into the sheet of steel by the folding/breaking operation are released in unrestrained surfaces and edges to form complex curves of stunning ‘natural’ beauty.
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To demonstrate the spatial and structural potential of this ‘broken’ vault we developed a design for a simple landscape shelter utilizing three 10’ x 24’ sheets of stainless steel. The resulting assemblage of vaulted forms shares the juxtaposition of straight line and graceful curve, delicacy and animate presence of the Winnipeg Skating Shelters, further enhanced by the lustrous surfaces of stainless steel.
“In 2004, Rei Kawakubo, the genius behind the Japanese brand Comme des Garçons, introduced a new retail concept to London. Dover Street Market, named for its location in London’s tony Mayfair neighborhood, is a mash-up of market, department store and museum. Individual concessions handpicked by Kawakubo, which run the gamut from luxury labels like Lanvin and Azzedine Alaïa to the utilitarian wares of Labour & Wait and the edible goods of Rose Bakery, share space with art and design installations and the multiple labels in the Comme des Garçons fashion family. Last week, Kawakubo opened Dover Street Market in Tokyo, doubling its size and placing it squarely in the center of Ginza, the city’s shopping mecca, where venerable department stores, luxury boutiques and the supersize flagship stores of brands like Uniqlo line the streets.
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Like its sister store in London, Dover Street Market Ginza (DSMG) hews to Kawakubo’s notion of “beautiful chaos.” “I see it as the mixing up and coming together of different kindred souls who all share a strong personal vision,” says the designer who not only conceived all the spaces for her Comme des Garçons brands as well as spaces for several others labels but also curated the selection of artists, architects and set designers whose work is installed throughout the building’s six floors.”
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Excerpt from “Even Bigger in Japan – Tokyo Gets Its Own Dover Street Market” by Brooke Hodge, ‘T’ The New York Times Style Magazine, March 23, 2012
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Cocoons: Type Variant
Adding to the mix in the new Dover Street Market Ginza are Cocoons. Comme des Garcons originally made contact after seeing a publication of the Skating Shelters in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They requested a type variant of the shelters, as change enclosure and/or display, constructed to meet fire codes in Tokyo. The transformation required both a material change and variation of the form.
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Within the context of a “Beautiful Chaos”, Cocoons are mostly silent figures, quietly calming a field around themselves, a moment of pause in the ecstasy of the whirlwind. They have their own internal scale separate from that of the space within which they stand. They are animate and intimate figures, a pair or couple of ‘something’, a relationship of two; irreducible to a single interpretation. Their role is equally ambiguous, change enclosure or display, occupier or occupied…open to interpretation.
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A soft, muted exterior surface of stainless steel transforms sheet to mass, constructing a sense of the immutable. The figuration is clear, from some perspectives seamless. Soft mass absorbs and blurs the ‘delirium’ of immediate context. Form appears to ‘hold’ light, to make it almost ‘material’ as a volume. Interior reflections multiply formal symmetries in a dizzying kaleidoscopic array. One enters a space that is entirely ‘other’, like some sort of cryogenic chamber…and emerges ‘changed’…while the cocoons themselves calmly ‘continue’, asserting the undeniable presence of their ‘bodies’ amongst the surrounding ephemera.
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Form/Assembly
The making of the cocoons is remarkably like the making of clothing. Each cocoon is assembled from three pattern-cut 18 gauge stainless steel sheets to form subtle, body-like forms. Flanges along the ridge, spine, and mid-panel seams are folded and reinforced with drilled and tapped 7 gauge stainless steel plates to accept countersunk fasteners. The panels are welded to 3 gauge base plates that fasten to a 1.5”x1.5” HSS stainless steel frame, binding the assembly into a structural unity. A 1” thick acrylic floor is lit from below. The change enclosure is fitted with a pivoting steel-framed door, clad in sheer white fabric that offers privacy while emitting a soft white glow from the interior.
Rift is at a much larger scale than earlier projects but continues to utilize the spatial and structural  potential which folding, bending or shaping can give to thin planes of material. In this case, as the reinforced concrete retaining walls cut more deeply into the ground they undulate with increasing amplitude.  Not only does this result in a powerfully evocative spatial envelope, the increase in ‘effective’ cross-sectional depth which is a consequence of the increasing amplitude of the undulations results in a proportional increase in the inherent structural capacity of the walls.
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The two retaining walls are constructed utilizing ‘shotcrete’, an application where concrete is conveyed through a hose and pneumatically projected at high velocity onto a forming surface. The great efficiency of this technique lies in the fact that only a single-sided form is required to construct each wall (as only one side of each wall is exposed to view, this is all that is required for the project); and as the two walls are adjacent to one another across the space of the rift, the two single-sided forms can be trussed together periodically to support and counterbalance one another during construction.
 
The undulating plan geometry of the walls is achieved, first, by progressively adjusting the geometry of the periodic trusses in relation to each other to describe the outline of the future rift. Then, a set of CNC machine cut horizontal guides is added at vertical intervals to direct the placement of the forming surfaces themselves.
Within the rugged natural context of the landscape the architectural space of the rift provides a powerful alternate experience; a somewhat ambiguous juxtaposition of architectural form and land form. Here the forest drops away, the air cools, sound becomes intimate, and only the sky remains: captured within the narrow interval between the at once rock-like, but also abstract, constructed surface of the retaining walls.
Cooling Station builds on lessons learned in fabricating One Fold and Cocoons to achieve a significantly larger sheet metal construction. Instead of using the simultaneous folding/braking operation and purpose-made machine required by One Fold, Cooling Station uses a conventional sheet metal brake. Folding the edges of stainless steel sheets creates inverted keystone-shaped units with flanged edges for ease of connection. By joining these units together, it is possible to form sheet metal cones which can then be stacked to create extremely light weight large-scale towers with robust spatial and structural characteristics.
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The stainless steel towers reflect light and solar energy and provide a shaded interior, while the chimney-like form has a performative character. Tying the towers to a massive foundation carved into the ground (so that it is both connected to the cool subterranean soil and isolated from the hot surface) creates a radiantly cooled interior and sets up a thermally differentiated air column. This column is completed by locating a large thermal storage mass within a double skin around the top of the tower and painting the top of the tower matt-black, to promote the absorption and storage of solar energy. The resulting “stack effect” draws air cooled by the foundation mass through the heated aperture above, naturally ventilating the interior.
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The glistening vertical form of the Cooling Station is a beacon in the desert landscape; a visual sign of thermal relief for the hiker in a hostile environment. Upon entering the Cooling Station the heat and glare of the desert sun is left behind. Within the shaded interior the temperature drops. The interior ground plane and stereotomic bench are cool to the touch. Coolness radiates to the surrounding volume. Heat is drawn away through the oculus above, the rising air cooling as it moves across skin.
This project is our response to an open international design competition for a new public library in Daegu, a city of two million in South Korea. We used this competition as a platform to explore two enduring interests – the relationship of structural systems to form, and the developing typology of the modern public library.
 
The site is within the dense urban context of the Gosan district of Daegu. The library is located to the south end of the site in order to leave the north end, which is contiguous with a public park, open as public space. This open space runs across the entire north end of the site and expands to the east at the entry to the library.
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A ‘parking court’ is located within this open space, extending an existing line of parking which runs along the south edge of the park to the west. Gates at either end of the public space transform the ‘parking court’ into an enlarged ‘event space’ for community celebrations and occasion, such as a used book fair, a children’s festival, a community barbeque.
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Upon entering the library, the community of library users unfolds before you; the main reading area forms a terrace immediately ahead, while the lecture hall falls off in a slope to your right, the library reception edges the space and the long circulation counter/new books wall guides you to the smaller children’s terrace tucked under the main reading terrace above.
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We conceived of the program as a continuous topography rather than a series of discrete boxes. This offers visitors a range of choices, to accommodate the widest range of individual preference in terms of space and social engagement. The library is organized on 4 levels which are connected by a series of reading terraces. The main reading terrace connects the entry level containing lobby, circulation desk, back-of-house services and an auditorium to the collections level above. Within this larger seating terrace, the round pods afford smaller, more intimate pockets. A secondary reading terrace continues the upward path to the digital media lab tucked up under the roof form. Moving down from the entry level, the children’s performance, story-telling and reading terrace connects to the children’s library and a suite of community services and culture rooms below.
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The library can be divided. A garden court to the northwest leads to a separate community entrance. During hours when the library is closed, this entrance gives access to the lower entrance lobby and to the suite of community rooms. An operable glass wall separates the lecture hall from the library at the main level entrance lobby. The children’s library simply locks its doors. The library becomes a community cultural center with extended hours of use for events and rental opportunities. By connecting and ‘bundling’ program elements of varying scales, we can maximize their combined value. These connections are established by carefully crafting spaces for large events as well as providing for smaller by use of critically placed separations and joints.
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The structure of the library comprises reinforced concrete floor slabs supported on reinforced concrete columns and walls. The exterior walls and roof are supported by a timber shell. This shell has material, structural and formal virtues. It is made from wood, the only renewable structural material, in straight lengths and conventional sizes – staggered 16 ft lengths of 4 x 8”and 4 x 14” timber, connected by 2 ft lengths of blocking to form a reciprocal frame – sheathed by 3 layers of half-inch plywood.
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We used Grasshopper to generate a parametric model of the entire building enclosure. This model included the timber shell of small, easily handled structural members, the various envelope layers using standard sheathing panel sizes, and a complex exterior surface tiled with a single repeating shape. It saved significant effort in both modelling and structural analyses, allowing us to investigate numerous variations of the complex and evocative forms that this structural system can accommodate. This level of design study would not have otherwise been practical in the time available.
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The timber members rotate slowly across arcs which describe the vertices of the building to create generous curvilinear forms. The resulting ‘ruled surface’ form acts monolithically as a shell structure to greatly enhance the structural performance of the timber and plywood assembly. Sections of the shell would be prefabricated into six-foot wide panels of varying length, filled with high-pressure spray-applied polyurethane insulation, clad with a self-adhering, self-sealing waterproof membrane, and then assembled on site. The exterior surface of the shell is to be covered in-situ with two inches of architectural ‘shotcrete’, a secondary waterproof and anti-crack isolation membrane, and finished with ceramic tile.
Description in progress.
GNaum, the Garden Naum, is a habitable sculpture, just large enough for two people. It is named to acknowledge the Russian Constructivist sculptor Naum Gabo who utilized thin planar materials to depict the volume of a figure without carrying its mass.
GNaum builds on our previous metal folding and bending projects, such as One-Fold and Cocoons, which construct robust shells through a simple folding or ‘braking’, and subsequent bending or ‘springing’ of light gauge stainless steel sheet. In this case two 5’ x 12’ rectangular 16 gauge sheets are each folded 3 times in a conventional sheet-metal brake, joined to a steel base-frame and to each other to ‘spring-form’ one-half of the volume. Two identical halves are then nested into one another and connected to each other at base-frame and at apex to describe a subtly asymmetrical bi-lateral figure.
From sprung-form to sculptural volume, GNaum achieves monumental presence through the simple manipulation and assembly of thin stainless steel sheet material.
Metal, steel in particular, may be the centermost emblem and instrument of endurance and utility in the history of human experience. Metals are fundamental material, naturally occurring crystalline structures that fill the majority of the periodic table of elements: our catalog of essential media, the atomic makeup of all found and fabricated things.
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While iron is among the most abundant elements in and on the Earth, steel, an alloy of iron, is not elemental. It is the product of centuries of work and refinement, a history that has distinguished aeons. That history, which is a melding of the most basic physical potential of the world and the potential of human intention and curiosity, is inextricable from the presence and significance of metallic forms.
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Cut/Drawn is a direct intervention in that history, a disruption, however slight, that acknowledges, challenges and illuminates the integrity of character that abides in one of the most ubiquitous of materials.
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Steel is common. But it is so common because it is so extraordinary. Nothing else is as efficient, strong, resilient, lightweight, and affordably produced. Steel is versatile, even stronger in tension than it is in compression, and elastic enough to absorb great stress without fracturing or changing shape. It is tough, even symbolic of toughness. The word steel is used to invoke the girding of oneself in preparation for adversity, and its root lies in the ancient Germanic notion of standing fast. Steel yourself. Hold true. Resist. Even as inner reinforcement, steel is armor. Cut/Drawn, however, is like a peek under that armor, a coaxing exposure of the hidden and vulnerable quick.
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For all of its strength, we know that the weakness of steel is heat. Steel in the crucible, amorphous and incandescent, may be cast into any shape desired. But the steel with which Cut/Drawn begins is already given a particular form: an industrially extruded plate. That form is itself an embodied record of the intentions and uses to which steel is put, without which the medium would not perform as it does. Cutting and drawing describes the intervention we make in its material presence. We cut it from its intended utility and draw out from it an alternative expression of its specific manufacture.
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But cutting and drawing is also the radically limited pallet of manipulations that we make to the steel. We cut it precisely and draw it out with enormous tension. That is the sum of our methods.
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The process is as delicate and forceful as the results are elaborate and vigorous. It matters how the forms are made because wilfulness and desire are not utterly dominant over the material. It is not beaten into some representation or function. It is not rarified to an abstraction. It is not put to posturing in the service of a concept or comment. It is, however, damaged. It is stressed. It is made to fail and the manner of that failure is the content of the conversation between the artist and the medium. Something is being asked and the only way to get a good answer is by asking a good question.
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Our work plumbs the ethos of the steel sheet—its way of being. We subject it to stressful situations wherein its nature is not simply revealed, as it is in the crucible, but is unfurled in response to the challenge. The material does as it must, according to its intrinsic aspect and its conditioned character. As with a person, therein lies its integrity and failing well, as opposed to succeeding beautifully, becomes the proof.
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The challenge is mutual. Our work must become harmonic with the integrity of the steel, with its ability to stand fast and its unwillingness to yield gracefully. It tends to hold to the point of utter failure at its weakest point rather than open up with supple elegance throughout. Minor changes in the pattern of cuts and the application of force have significant impacts on the final results and when we do not fail well it is because of an inadequate understanding of the material. It seems that, because we enter into a dialogue with the material rather than imposing predetermined forms upon it, our process must have an ethos of its own. It must be given to a particular way and hold true to that way, though it is not quite freely chosen. It must be negotiated with elemental levels of material and cultural reality.
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Cut/Drawn is a sculptural pursuit. It is a study in form. It is a critical reflection of the fact of materiality and the intentions of design. It is a curious deviation and an open conversation. It is work. It is work in process. It is work in progress.
Description in progress.