Castles in the Air
The Marquis de Sade could never have dreamed up the installation NArchitects designed for his château in Provence
David Sokol -- Interior Design, 11/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Pilgrims to the Marquis de Sade's château in Lacoste, France, are usually in search of painfully beautiful medieval architecture. Last summer, though, the landmark drew not only literary-minded thrill-seekers but also design buffs. The Savannah College of Art and Design, which now operates the castle as part of a satellite campus for graduate students, commissioned Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang of NArchitects to mount a temporary site-specific installation there for an exhibition called "Chimères." Titled Windshape, the piece was composed of two diaphanous structures that the college's students built and installed on top of the infamous fortifications. By day, Windshape's forms swayed and shifted in the breeze like ghosts. Illuminated at night, they glowed like the castle's golden crown. "An extrusion of a possible building" is how Bunge describes the installation.
More specifically, it was composed of PVC pipe and polypropylene string, chosen for their ephemeral appearance as well as their ability to withstand the mistral, the cold desert wind that blows across Provence each spring. Digital models of the structure already took into account the timeworn, uneven surfaces of the castle, so a team of art students could immediately get to work cutting the pipe into 13-foot lengths, drilling holes in those pieces, and assembling them as tripod structures. The tripods were mounted in concrete footings, filled with sand, and cinched at the top with an aluminum collar into which an identical tripod could be inserted upside down. Then, at the top of each leg, additional collars connected every double tripod to its neighbors. But the real job of weaving a single large network fell to the polypropylene string. Students threaded 31 miles of it through the 25,000 drill holes, creating identical loops 1 1/4 inches apart. Occasionally, as the web widened, a parabolic thread pattern would leave an opening for a passageway or window.
The line was not threaded taut, so a light breeze caused ripples, while stronger gusts rocked the entire structure "It was something strong as well as live and supple," Hoang says. She and Bunge compare the motion to that of lavender swaying in Provençal fields.