Wolf-Gordon’s “Force of Nature” spirals through Chicago’s Merchandise Mart during NeoCon 2013.
Based on the success of Wolf-Gordon’s inaugural NeoCon installation in 2012, chief creative officer Marybeth Shaw commissioned yet another show-stopping design piece for 2013. With the working title “Forces of Nature,” she turned once again to New York City–based design studio karlssonwilker and Brooklyn-based design-build collaborative The Guild to create a sculpture that would showcase the breadth of the company’s textiles and wall coverings. “The title ended up being quite appropriate to the final form, as the sculpture is a geometric construct with all of the resulting physical forces that might spin it out of the Mart’s ‘town square,’” Shaw recently told AN.
Karlssonwilker initially conceived of a kinetic sculpture, but Shaw wanted a large installation—nearly 30 feet long and 14 feet wide. At that size, there was no room for movement within the given space, a double-height ceiling over an escalator that would carry 42,000 show attendees. “We wanted it to rotate like a rotisserie chicken, but we went for a larger form,” said Graham Kelman, creative manager for The Guild. Ultimately, the team decided on a static sculpture resembling a twisted spine that gives a sense of movement through color and form. “I lost sleep over whether it would fit because if there was flex in the spine, it wouldn’t work.”
The designers worked in SketchUp and 3DS Max to develop layered parameters for 68 slats—the vertebrae along the spine—that would showcase 136 of Wolf-Gordon’s products, one on each side. As visitors ascend the escalator, the slats appear above them like a twisting array of fanned-out cards. The products were arranged by color, forming a gradient that goes from white to orange to red on the way up the escalator and purple to brown on the way down. The edge of each slat slopes one degree, adding to the sculpture’s twisting vortex appearance.
Since the sculpture hangs above show goers, realizing the piece with light materials was paramount. The slats are made from foam sandwiched between two sheets of Masonite. An aluminum channel along the perimeter of each slat provides rigidity. A plywood box connects and spaces each slat. The team used the software’s parametric capabilities to calculate where to place screw holes in the boxes and slats to create the twisting geometry.
The Guild fabricated the 68 slats and plywood boxes in Brooklyn with a CNC mill, flat-packed for transport to Chicago, and installed at the Mart over a period of three days. “In terms of installation, it went well but it was a strange structure with torsional forces acting on it,” Kelman said. “As we built, the twist revealed itself.” Aircraft cable was fastened strategically along the spine, which was ultimately affixed to a 32-foot-long box trough, securely attached to beams of the ceiling.
The final result was another eye-catching surprise during NeoCon at the Merchandise Mart. “Lots of things can go wrong with these projects,” said Shaw. “But if you’re on the same page and trust your collaborator’s intentions, you’ll always find your way to a solution.”