Ellipses Collide in Mathematically-Inspired Installation at the University of Oregon

Ellipses Collide in Mathematically-Inspired Installation at the University of Oregon

Derived from geometries created between several floating ellipses, SubDivided makes a nod to the mathematics department it occupies. (Courtesy Brooks Dierdorff)

SubDivided provides a unifying element in Fenton Hall’s three-story atrium, tying each level together visually.

In December 2012, the University of Oregon completed a renovation of Fenton Hall (1904), which has been home to the mathematics department for the past 35 years. In addition to sprucing up the interior and upgrading the mechanical systems, the institution hosted an open competition for the design of an installation to hang in the building’s atrium. Out of roughly 200 initial applicants three were shortlisted, and of those the university selected a design by Atlanta-based architect Vokan Alkanoglu. Composed of 550 uniquely shaped aluminum sheets, the 14-foot-high by 10-foot-long by 4 ½-foot-wide sculptural form is derived from the curving geometry created by several opposed ellipses—a nod to the discipline that calls Fenton Hall home.

“We wanted to create something that would be visible on all three floors of the atrium to connect the levels and create flow in the space,” said Alkanoglu. “We also wanted to have an interior to the piece, so that you could see inside and outside, to give it a real sense of three dimensionality.”

Diagram showing the top, front, side, and back views of SubDivided. (Courtesy Volkan Alkanoglu)
  • Fabricators MAC Industries
  • Architect Volkan Alkanoglu
  • Location Eugene, OR
  • Date of Completion  December 2012
  • Material   .04-inch-thick pre-painted aluminum
  • Process  Rhino, Grasshopper, CNC routing, riveting

Alkanoglu and his associate Matthew Au modeled the piece, named SubDivided, in Rhino, using algorithms to define the curved surfaces that link each open ellipse. In addition to giving the sculpture a sense of depth, the curves also add to its structural integrity. Alkanoglu tessellated the surface with perforations to keep it lightweight and increase its visual permeability. Once he had defined the form, Alkangolu transferred it into Grasshopper, breaking the model down into 550 unique sections. Each piece was given tabs with holes in order to make connections with rivets, and assigned an identification number.

Alkanoglu transferred this subdivided version of SubDivided as .dxf files to local fabricator, MAC Industries. MAC fed the files into its CNC routing machines, which cut the profiles out of .04 aluminum sheets pre-painted in two colors—the University wanted the sculpture to have a duotone appearance, matte gray on the outside and white on the inside. Once cut, the sections were given a non-scratch coating and labeled with stickers.

The white/gray duotone distinguishes the sculpture’s interior and exterior surfaces. (Courtesy Brooks Dierdorff)

To assemble these puzzle pieces, Alkanoglu recruited three architecture students from U of O. In a shop, the team set about the work of peeling off the non-scratch coating, rolling the sections to give them the requisite curve, and connecting them with rivets. The team assembled the piece in four chunks, which they then transported to the site, where a scaffold had been erected in the atrium. The four larger pieces were connected atop the scaffold and the entire assembly was attached to the ceiling with three narrow-gauge galvanized cables crimped to steel plates inside the sculpture. According to the calculations of the project’s structural engineer, Buro Happold, SubDivided weighs a mere 56 pounds.

“It’s kind of like a research project,” said Alkanoglu. “A small prototype that could move into a larger building, maybe a facade, or an atrium for a bigger building, which hopefully will come in the future.”

SubDivided awaits visitors to Fenton Hall. (Courtesy Brooks Dierdorff)