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The firm continues its exploration of creating complex shapes with rope
The West Coast’s design show Dwell on Design brings tens of thousands of visitors to the Los Angeles Convention center for three days of modern design each summer. This year, the show commissioned a project from Oyler Wu Collaborative, the LA-based architecture firm of Jenny Wu and Dwayne Oyler. The most recent of seven installations (including “Netscape,” the SCI-Arc 2011 graduation pavilion) that the duo has designed since 2007, “Screenplay” is a 22-foot-long, 9-foot-high steel frame over which is woven an impossibly complex web of silver polypropylene rope.
As with all of their installations, “Screenplay” would involve a large degree of hand fabrication in its final stage. “While fabricating our own design started as a necessity in order to control cost, we have continued to do it as a way of extending the research of our practice in terms of material and structural experimentation,” wrote Wu in her documentation of the process.
The team began to explore concepts with rope, challenging themselves to create an entirely new concept using the same material they in “Netscape” just a year ago. Oyler Wu’s previous work has played with transforming two-dimensional lines into three-dimensional forms, and Dwell’s project will be an iteration of that concept. Viewed straight on, the wall is a dense line pattern. As the viewer moves around the piece, it takes on shape, revealing three-dimensional topography with depths varying from 2 to 12 feet, and marked variations in density.
In the office, the staff began by building a small physical model. Their primary concern was learning how to wrap the rope, and keep it in place, on the steel frame that would be the installation’s base. The solution was pre-wrapping the entire frame; though time-consuming, it was the only way to create a “gripping” surface and an even spacing system for the structure’s rope web. As it moved into full-scale production, Oyler Wu used the analog model as a guide for the staff and students who would perform the complex rope-wrapping process. The team involved in fabrication of the structure’s steel profiles largely referred to the digital model, constantly checking the size and placement of members that were cut and welded by hand. Each vertical piece was numbered and held in place with a wooden jig as the connecting structural elements were welded to the frame.
The project’s greatest challenge has been time—it was originally slated to be completed two week’s before Dwell’s June 22 opening, but the team has called in more hands (using social media pleas and help from Wu’s former SCI-Arc students) to complete the piece. As the show draws near, Wu wrote that her biggest fear is running out of rope. The team has exhausted its supplier’s stock—45,000 linear feet, or almost 9 miles—of 1/4-inch cord, and still has to create a woven seating element within the frame or else find a backup plan as crowds of design-lovers descend Los Angeles next week.