Situation Room, the 2014 installation at the Storefront for Art and Architecture by MARC FORNES / THEVERYMANY in collaboration with sound artist Jana Winderen, is on one level an interactive work of art. But it is also much more. The hot pink venous structure, embedded with transducers that distribute Winderen’s engineered sounds across its surface, is an example of what Fornes calls “prototypical architecture”: an object that exists, not for its own sake, but to demonstrate the capacities of new architectural systems. In the case of Situation Room, the installation explores a new structural paradigm. Comprising aluminum panels bent according to a pattern of intersecting spheres, Situation Room is neither a structural shell nor a structure plus shell. Rather, it is both; its skin performs as a structural network, but so does a series of columns formed at the meeting points between adjacent spheres.
Situation Room is an iteration of what MARC FORNES / THEVERYMANY refer to internally as “the Fornes Principle.” The Fornes Principle refers to a particular technical challenge, explained Fornes. “How do you describe a surface that is double-curved into an endless series of parts that be cut [on the plane], bent on site, and connected together to stiffen and become structure?” A successful solution to the question Fornes poses has tremendous implications in terms of both cost of manufacture and speed of construction. “One can use very expensive molds” to fabricate the curved forms, he said, “or describe the surface as a linear path, with no molds and no scaffolding required.”
Fornes’ studio designed Situation Room in Rhino, deploying in-house scripts written using Python and Rhino Commons. The installation comprises 20 spheres of different diameters merged using boolean operations. The pattern of apertures was dictated by stress flows along its surface. “What you see as a void is the negative of the stress flow,” explained Fornes. The apertures also create unique acoustic properties, as the program of resonant sounds designed by Winderen dissipates across the shell.
Fornes notes that Situation Room‘s pink color was not informed by any particular affinity for that hue. Rather, the designers chose it for its tendency to create the optical illusion known as neon color spreading, in which the boundary between object and background appear to blur. “The best neon effect we found was with that pink color,” said Fornes. “Whenever you look through the installation, it’s so overwhelming that you have to constantly adjust. You question your relationship with your own environment.”
Thanks to the Fornes Principle, fabrication and installation of Situation Room was straightforward—if not necessarily easy. The shell’s components were laser-cut from sheets of ultra-thin aluminum, then powder-coated. On site, the team bent each aluminum panel by hand before riveting it into place, working sequentially according to a labeled 3D model. “The only way you can connect one panel to its neighbor” is by giving it the proper curvature, said Fornes. “It’s a lot of work.”