I made it back! Huzzah!
After a bit of rescheduling on the event organiser’s end – private bookings obviously took precedence over freely ticketed proles like myself, and such bookings have been in huge demand given the iconic nature of the art installation – I popped in to see Bjarke Ingels‘ and Westbank‘s latest promo piece : “Unzipped Toronto.”
Designed by Bjarke for the 2016 Serpentine Pavilion in Hyde Park in the knowledge that art patron extraordinaire Ian Gillespie of Westbank wanted the product for a traveling art installation thereafter, this manmade mountain of pultruded i fibreglass boxes and extruded aluminum connectors form a parametric maze, a sculpture constructed of seeminglyii identical repeating units that manage to embody sinuousness, solidity, translucency, and transparency, all depending on the angle and orientation of the observer.
Inspired by Sigurd Lewerentz’ uncut brickwork on the Church of St Peter in Klippan, it’s a massive structure from the outside, over three storeys tall, but it’s incredibly intimate inside — like an airy womb. The interior is filled with beautifully crafted models – much like the ones I grew up around in the architecture offices of my parents – of projects by BIG and Westbank, and therefore turned up to 11 in terms of quality, with a level of detail befitting the global stage that Ian and Bjarke play on.
On the outside, other crisp as cotton details include the joinery of the fibreglass facade boxes themselves. You can see below that each of the fibreglass boxes is actually reinforced with internal L-angles also made of fibreglass and then screwed through to external X-shaped supports made of aluminum with metal screws mechanically binding the two together. These X-shaped supports are made of aluminum because fibreglass has jack shit for pull-out and shear values compared to metals, so the continual setting up and taking down of this installation would be impossible using entirely fibreglass construction. This is thoughtful detailing! Less thoughtful, however, was the fact that the cut ends of the fibreglass boxes were insufficiently sealed and were wicking moisture, which was staining many of them in a subtly unsightly manner. Alas, it’s still a stunning exhibition of lightness, materiality, interactivity, and community engagement. A featherweight Richard Serra, if you will, and all the better for the lack of mass.
Unzipped is in Toronto until November 30th and will then head to New York, Shanghai, Seattle, and perhaps other locations before taking final residence in Vancouver. If you get a chance, this author can’t recommend it enough.iii
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- Apparently ignorant of manufacturing methods, both Bjarke and the printed materials put together by Westbank for Unzipped Toronto quoted the fibreglass as being “extruded,” a process used to turn ingots of metal into customised forms using incredible amounts of pressure to force the larger ingredients into smaller products. Fibreglass Reinforced Plastic (FRP), contrariwise, is manufactured by pultrusion, wherein thousands of glass strands are pulled from their spools through a bath of resins before being thermoset in a hot die, thus creating larger products from smaller ingredients. The latter process uses a fraction of the energy but is also more expensive and can’t make as delicate of forms. There’s a yuge difference! They’re kind of the exact opposite!!1
- I say “seemingly” because the fibreglass boxes at the base of the structure actually have thicker walls than those at the top — it’s a continuously decreasing gauge from 9mm at the base to 6mm in the middle to 3mm at the peak. ↩
- “Zip it up and zip it out!” ~Dave Chappelle ↩