David Rockwell's motion-sensitive installation at the Biennale di Venezia brings visitors and old movies to the big screen
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 10/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Through November 23, the screens, framed in bent aluminum pipe, are the opening installation in the Biennale's main hall, the 16th-century Corderie dell'Arsenale.
The installation was first tested in a Larchmont, New York warehouse.
The two concave screens are made of polyurethane-polyethylene-glycol and define the 60-foot-long hallway.
The computer rendering reveals the height of the two screens.
The abstract patterns reflect the number, pace, and proximity of visitors via video-motion detectors.
Images from top: Paul Wesley Griggs; Rockwell Group; Rockwell Group; Tom Haggerty; Paul Wesley Griggs.
What does architecture look like without, well, architecture? So goes this year's Biennale di Venezia, themed "Out There: Architecture Beyond Building," on view through November 23. Consider Diller Scofidio + Renfro's virtual gondola ride, Greg Lynn Form's children's toys-cum-furniture, and Gehry Partners's not-sure-what-it-is timber tower. Those are among the 56 concept-heavy installations that paint an uneven portrait of the discipline's less tangible implications.
But as the designer behind high-impact hotels and restaurants, not to mention stage sets for Broadway, David Rockwell of Rockwell Group has long understood that bricks and mortar are only as good as the events taking place inside them. So with Hall of Fragments, the opening installation inside the biennale's Arsenale complex, the impresario mounted what he calls "an investigation of movement" that's part sound-and-light tunnel, part cinematic montage, and part interactive technology experiment.
A collaboration with architecture consultant Jones/Kroloff, the 4,600-square-foot exhibit features a darkened, 60-foot-long walkway defined by two parabolic 15-foot-tall screens of white polyurethane-polyethylene-glycol. Using technology developed in-house, video-motion sensors activate an electronic soundscape alongside rear-projected graphics. Imagine pulsing constellations of dots or crystalline shards in kaleidoscopic greens, yellows, blues, and reds; the longer you linger, the more fantastical the images get. "There's a payoff to patience," says Rockwell, who sees the end-result as what he calls "a spontaneous community" visualized through patterns that reflect the number, pace, and proximity of visitors.
But look harder. Flashing within the abstractions are snippets from myriad motion pictures, from Blow Up and Dr. Strangelove to The Wizard of Oz, all chosen for their instantly recognizable scenes. Meanwhile, 20-second-long clips of the movies run on 68 TV monitors below the giant screens—the "behind-the-curtain moment," as Rockwell puts it. The cinematic imagination is thus translated into a multimedia experience that, in the architect's theatrical hands, seems ripe for real-world application. But has Rockwell found it? "Not yet," he admits, "but I'm sure we will."