The new sculpture in the Beaver foyer is receiving a lot of attention from the entire Beaver community. Designed and implemented by Kennedy & Violich Architecture (KVA), the idea for the installation stemmed from a unique architectural feature prominent in the existing Beaver entry way called a Guastavino vault. Janaya Hart ’09, had the opportunity to intern with KVA this summer and help with various stages of the project. Here’s her take on the experience.
What role did you play in the installation? I was still in school when the planning had begun, and was invited to join in on the planning during its modeling stage. When I arrived at KVA, a digital model had already been constructed along with a test model and several other initial proposals. Prior to my arrival, many iterative models had been tested either in paper, chipboard, or wood. Different types of wood were tested for their bending and joint connecting capabilities as well. We continued to make many iterations of the design including an in-depth analysis of joint connections through both 3D modeling and physical modeling. These tests helped prove structural stability to the contractors who helped with the installation but initially had some concerns. One of the most helpful steps in the creation of the vault was a full-scale mock-up of a quarter of the vault to ensure that our structure could actually be built without flaws. This included testing our fire-retardant paint on the vault strips and seeing how the colors of the wood might change or inhibit bending ability. Shortly after having success with the full-scale mock-up, we began installation on site.
As an intern at KVA, and a student who designs primarily through physical means, my primary job was to make models. I constructed models at a scale of one to 10, and also did many full-scale mock-ups of important joint connections. I also tested different stains for the wood, including a fire retardant product required by code for safety reasons. From these models I was able to take a digital form and see if it behaved the same way that it did on the computer. If there were any issues, for example with bending, or joining pieces, I would relay this information back to the design team where we would all work on a solution. This process was repeated many times until all major problems were solved.
How did the traditional architecture inspire this installation? From what I understand of the initial intention of the design, the new vault mimics the existing vault and acts as a connector between the loggia space and waiting area. With that said, clearly the shape of the vault was inspired by the arches. The shape was engineered using mathematics to provide the correct angles and shapes for each wooden strip so they would fit together the correct manner. It is important to realize that no two strips in this structure are alike. Every piece has a unique shape, with a unique location for each joint connection as well as distance from the ceiling. Just the fact that there was so much physics and math involved proves that this is a great installation to have at a school and could possible aid in class lessons.
What do you feel you gained from being a part of this process? It is a very different experience interning at a firm than being at school in a studio environment where your designs most likely won’t be realized in an actual space. This was such an exciting project because I was able to see and participate in most of its design process and even its installation. From that alone, you gain a certain sense of satisfaction. I also learned a lot about the details of construction. In design courses at school, we focus more on the concept of our design and rarely have time to focus on every nut and bolt of each connection. I was able to gain knowledge about the specifics of every element in our project.
What do you think this installation means to the Beaver community? I think it has yet to make its mark in the Beaver community. I remember that during my time there, we had certain areas were we would all sit and hang out, eat, or do our work, etc. The vault will definitely become a central space of activity at Beaver and hopefully be something to remember, or even a symbol for both old and new students who spend their four years there.
What does it mean to you to have taken part in the design and implementation process? I can’t even explain how much it meant to be a part of this project. Beaver has honestly done so much for me during my four years of high school and even after I graduated three years ago. I have always appreciated the initiative that Beaver teachers take in staying in tune with student’s individual interests and keeping their eyes open for opportunities like this one. I feel like this project gave me a chance to leave my permanent mark. I like that I can be proud of this project and say I helped design and take part in its construction. In general, I think every architect’s dream is to see their work come to life and have people enjoy and interact with it.
What was your favorite part of the process? My favorite part of the process was definitely the installation of the vault on site at full scale. It is unusual for architects to design a space and then actually go in a build it themselves, so I may not get the chance to do something like this again. KVA is also a unique firm that works as an open studio that encourages collaboration, a lot of iterative work and physical building, which I love. One of my favorite parts of the design process is the making of both iterative and final models, so I was glad to see that this process is of such value at KVA.
— Janaya Hart is fourth-year architecture major at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning at Cornell University. She is currently studying abroad in Rome for the semester.