SOFTlab and The Living produced the exhibition design for ReGeneration at the New York Hall of science. ReGeneration includes ten installations produced by various artists that explore immigration, urbanization, and sustainability through art, science and technology. Our brief was for the exhibition design to not only be a platform for the other installations, but to also be an installation in and of itself making it one of the ten artist installations.
The New York Hall of Science is located in Queens, NYC, the most ethnically diverse county in the United States. The exhibition framed the idea of sustainability as a system that is exothermic. That New York City is an exothermic system that thrives on the infusion of energy through immigration and generates energy through ideas and knowledge. We looked at this idea at various scales: global, national, city, borough, etc. We found that it is not simply the infusion of various groups or energies into a system, but the mixing and tangencies of these energies and mixing that produces a “melting pot” of ideas. It is through this mixing and turbulence of many ideas that a larger community forms—one that can be seen as a larger whole while still retaining the ability to show a “finer grain,” much like the interconnected loops of an ecosystem, or like many local “weathers” within a regional or global weather system. We treated the overall exhibition as an opportunity for the mixing of various artists responding to the community in many ways, in hopes to create a critical mass of tangencies that extend an influence outside of the museum into the larger community.
We inverted the typical exhibition design of white walls and subdivisions and created a floating cloud that not only marked the zones of each artist installation but connected them under a common roof. More specifically, the “cloud” consists of multiple interconnected “weathers” at the multiple scales of the artwork, the community, Queens, New York City, the country, and the world. While each “weather” has its own features and identity, they have many overlapping, “common” themes, and there are many threads that tie them together into one “common” ecosystem. In other words, the cloud is a kind of weather for the Regeneration exhibition–but rather than a single weather, it is really several common weathers.
Each zone of the cloud has a custom radius designed specifically for each artist installation emphasizing the individual parts that make up the whole. The circular zones are non-directional implying that the influence of each piece exists in any and all directions. Each installation is not only a part of the overall exhibition installation, but the influence of each zone is seen through the minimal surface geometry used to make up the canopy above. The panelized cloud above was designed in collaboration with Arup so that it only finds its true shape through a series of precise rings at the top and the tension of gravity pulling on the lower rings. Visitors enter the exhibition from the mezzanine above. First seeing the tensioned surface as a whole with slight glimpses of the installations below. As visitors descend into the exhibition individual installations come into view. By marking the zone of each installation from above the site lines through the installation are completely open on the exhibition floor.
The exhibition ecosystem also engages community input through an interactive lighting system embedded in the lower rings of each zone. Each of the interconnected weathers glows and blinks according to real-time public thinking about the artworks and the exhibition themes. Visitors to the exhibition are invited to send text messages to the cloud “hotline” with comments or questions about the exhibition. Based on the content of these text messages, one or more of the funnels blink, and collective interest in the topics of the exhibition is registered as bright glowing regions in the ecosystem that change over time. Visitor input is not displayed directly in a forum or message board, but rather it is translated into another dynamic layer of weather.
The cloud like translucent surface above and the pulsing of the interactive lighting around each lower ring is meant to operate like a weather system. A system with eddies, tangencies, turbulence, and static, much like the way ideas are formed in communities of people, neighborhoods, classrooms, nations, etc. Our hope is that this exhibition exists as a system within a larger ecology that NYSCI is a part of, where the visitors are tangencies from Queens, New York City and other countries.
Fabrication: The surface of the installation was made of mylar panels. The surface was made of over 5000 unique panels, each laser cut and labeled for production. The surface is held in tension by a series of CNC cut wooden rings. The pattern the surface changes with the height making it gradually more transparent from above and giving a gradual transition from a solid surface to a more fenestrated lace like surface. The geometry of the minimal surface was finalized by Arup using finite element analysis. Arup also provided the design for the various connections to the complex ceiling of NYSCI’s Great Hall.