For Structures II with Professor David Thaddeus, we were given annual shadow box project where we are asked to build a physical model that explores how different materials would connect in real world applications. The materials we were told to use were concrete, wood, and metal. The use of any adhesive was not allowed as basswood models could be tacked together with tacky or Elmer’s glue, however, a stick framed construction would not last with the use of wood glue. The focus was not so much on the design of the final model but the methods of joinery.
My project looked at the Golden Ratio as inspiration. The Golden Ratio, also known as the Golden Mean and the Golden Section has been a time-tested approach to design that has been seen from the Greek Parthenon to the work of Le Corbusier. It is seen in nature from the formation of hurricanes to the layout and pattern of a sunflower. It is very similar to the Fibonacci Sequence, which is a series of numbers where a number is found by adding up the two numbers before it. The Golden Ratio has a pleasing, natural aesthetic that brings in natural sense of organization and composition to a design. The Golden Ratio describes the perfectly symmetrical relationship between two proportions through the ratio 1:1.61.
The highlight of my design was to use a single piece of bent wood to make the spiral of the Golden Ratio. The wood would be supported from a slab of concrete that would be etched with the lines that comprised each portion of the golden ratio as seen above. The wood would be supported by rods were screwed into the concrete and connected to the wood by magnets. The magnets would be set into the wood so that the rods would help support the would and not have to rely on just the magnets as the main point of contact.
Where did the idea of the bending would and the golden ratio come from? The real inspiration came from Richard Serra and his numerous large-scale sculptural art pieces who manipulated metal to make graceful, curved sculptures. Serra is known as one of
the most important artists of his time, working with metal on a monumental scale through the lens of a minimalist. Serra is most notably known for his work with Cor-Ten steel, using massively scaled sheets of the evenly rusted material to create an experience is not just about simply observing the artwork but challenges your relationship with the sculpture. In order to successful create these sculptures, its takes the forging of the steel, an engineer, the artist, the curator, preparators, construction workers, and the audience to create this experience.
My preliminary design was a little over ambitious with the bending of thin sheets of metal and wood within a limited area. This would have been a nightmare to make and would have required a level of skill that Richard Serra himself may or may not have acquired just yet, let alone my first time bending wood. After struggling to figure out the connections, it was reconfigured to the current scheme.
The first order of business was learning to bend the wood. After research various methods via YouTube and online searches, the easiest method I had found was to buy bendable plywood. I had seen numerous videos of plywood being bent into shape and holding it. Sadly, I was unable to find that kind of plywood that was reasonable priced. I did find a local wood distributor that sold a form of bendable plywood at a cheaper price but that came with lower quality wood. The wood was really flexible, flexible enough to be rolled up to fit in the trunk of my coupe. However, it was not flexible enough to make the tight radius of my golden ratio. This resulted in steaming the wood first to give it some flexibility. The issue was that the plywood was composed of three layers of wood veneer that could delamintate during the steaming process. So steaming it enough to make it flexible but not to the point of delamination was critical. Prior to steaming, the plywood was soaked in water overnight and steamed in a PVC pipe for about 15-20 minutes. The steamed plywood was place in a reinforced acrylic form where it remained for 12 hours to allow it to dry and assume the shape.
The concrete form was made out of foam core with hex nuts placed glued to the form work so that when the form was pulled off the nuts would stay in place. The nuts would be what received the threaded rods that connected to the magnets drilled into the wood.
A 25 pound piece of art. Well, 25 lbs on concrete to support less than a half-pound of wood. Overall, the project turned out beautifully. There were some hiccups as the lack of structure in the plywood meant that it still retained some of its elasticity and once taken out of the acrylic form work, the wood tended to unravel slightly. This could have been corrected by creating an even tighter framework that had very little give, but for the sake of fitting the would in the form, I gave a 1/32″ gap on each side for slightly easier insertion and removal. A reviewer who does woodworking said that making the veneer myself instead of using the cheap grade plywood would have worked better and would have resulted in the stiffer spiral that I was looking to achieve.