September 25, 2013

What’s Your Perspective: LTL Architects’s Installation at Sloan-Kettering

The tension between the rational and the random. That’s the dichotomy that LTL Architects set out to explore when commissioned for an installation at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Research Center, an Upper East Side building by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Anyone entering the lobby sees a massive freestanding partition punctuated by a grid of small holes. Seen from the other side, those orderly rows appear to have exploded into a scramble of different-size circles and ellipses.

Asked by art consultant Nancy Rosen to transform a part of the lobby with a four-step level change and a pair of structural columns, principals David Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, and Paul Lewis plotted out the places where staff and visitors naturally congregated. Then, taking into account that some would be taller than others, the architects calculated how sight lines would pass through the future partition’s grid of holes, expanding into different “vision cones” on the way to the far side. “The wall’s looking back at you as you’re looking at it,” David Lewis says. “It activates the space through engagement with people moving through.” Converting that design from Rhinoceros 3D software into reality proved a brain-twister, however, because the partition was to be modular, built from self-supporting boxes. “When all the vision cones intersected, they inevitably left fragments of the boxes floating in the air, unsupported,” Tsurumaki says. So Rhino analyzed the structural integrity of the modules and adjusted the trajectory of the cones as necessary.

A Philadelphia metal shop fabricated the modules from sheets of bead-blasted stainless steel. First, it was laser-cut. “They proposed continuous linear welds for assembly,” Paul Lewis explains, to ensure the right angles wouldn’t deform. Deformation of the surfaces was prevented by executing the welds with a jig designed to rapidly draw off the heat. Powder-coating the module interiors a highly reflective yellow, so no internal light source would be needed, fastening groups together for quicker assembly later, and conducting a test-run at a local arts organization were the final steps before shipping to Sloan-Kettering.

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